Some time ago, after a worship service that included a baptism, a visiting member of the family involved approached me. “You know,” he said, “I am a Baptist and that was the first Methodist baptism I’ve ever attended.” With surprise in his voice he continued, “It was very meaningful.”
Because of his sincerity, I stifled my impulse to say, “Well, we like to think of it as Christian baptism rather than Methodist baptism, but thank you.” Rather, I replied that I was glad that he found it meaningful and I was certain that it meant a great deal to his family that he was present.
The entire exchange started me thinking (I know – you can stifle your sarcastic impulses here, too). Isn’t it interesting that the two things that are the most visible signs of the unity of the church – baptism and Holy Communion – are also the two things that most separate us as different branches of the family of God. How we administer the sacraments, to whom we administer the sacraments, if we even consider them sacraments as opposed to ordinances, whether or not baptism is a one time event or repeatable – these and other debates consume us, perhaps not as much as in times past but they do still distinguish us. Baptists, Methodists like to say for example, are all wet. Methodists, my Baptist friends counter, need to add more water. And on it goes.
At the end of the day, however, it is in fact Christian baptism – initiation into Christ’s church, the beginning of a life of mission and discipleship, incorporation into something larger than one’s self. Whether you can actually remember your baptism because you had reached the “age of accountability” or were baptised as an infant in your mother’s arms and have only been told about it, whether you were immersed or sprinkled (or poured), whether it was in a Methodist or Baptist or Roman Catholic Church or in a river somewhere, it all means the same thing. You have been claimed by Jesus, washed by the Spirit, and (as we say) “incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation.”
This Sunday, we will think and talk a bit about baptism as a beginning of a life of faith rather than a destination, as something God does more than something we do. We will gather around the Word and hear again the story of Jesus’ baptism by John (Mark 1:1-11). Then, we will gather around the font to reaffirm our baptismal covenant, renew our life with God, and begin again. I look forward to seeing you Sunday at the waters and joining with you as we touch those waters again and are reminded of who we are and whose we are
Grace and peace.