Saturday, February 7, 2015

The most important day of my life. . .

Writing of Pope John Paul II in Witness to Hope, George Wiegel describes the day when the pope returned to his home parish in Wadowice during his monumental return to Poland as Pope in June of 1979. As he entered the church where he had served Mass, received the scapular, and prayed daily during his youth, the 264th Bishop of Rome went straight to the chapel that housed the baptismal font and venerated the place where he had been “born again” in 1920. Why? Because Karol Wojtyla knew that that day was the most important day of his life. . .

One of Lutheranism's greatest gifts to Christianity has been a vigorous and robust baptismal piety.  At least in theology, Lutherans speak most forcefully of God's action in baptism and of the consequential vocation that results from that baptismal miracle of water and the Word.  I remain constantly impressed with the vitality of Lutheran baptismal theology, piety, and devotion.  Even those outside Lutheranism have noted this.  David Schutz once observed:  In addition, modern conservative Lutheranism has developed a quite startlingly strong spirituality of baptism (almost equivalent in emphasis to the spirituality of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church). I take that as a compliment and an astute one at that.

That said, the theory is better than the practice.  I am constantly amazed at those who have no clue to the date of their baptism or the place.  In my catechism class it is one of the first assignments given to the youth -- find out when and where you were baptized and who your sponsors are.  It is not unusual for them to return without a clue because mom or dad did not recall and their certificate is buried somewhere -- ostensibly for safe keeping.  Because of this, we now give out a baptismal banner to those baptized here so that the date, at least, can be recalled from the banner that hangs upon their wall.

Though some complain Lutherans make too much of baptism, I fear it is too little.  Too little in regular practice and piety or else we just might remember the date, the place, and those who stood as our sponsors. Baptism IS the most important day of my life.  This is no slight to my wife and the day we were married or my children and the days they were born.  In fact, it is because of this that my children remain active Lutheran Christians to this present day.  A vigorous baptismal piety is one of the keys to retaining our youth in the faith and in the church.

Every time I return to my home parish, I see the font where I was baptized, where my father was baptized before me, and where two of my children were baptized.  It is the place where my faith was born, literally.  I only wish that most of my people felt the same way.  I fear that many of them consider baptism peripheral to their faith and life in Christ and this is a tragedy of great proportions.

Our quest for assurance (more Calvinistic than Lutheran, to be sure) has become a treasure hunt for the right feelings or the right attitude or the right knowledge or the moment of decision.  As good as each of these are, they offer us nothing of the security we long for.  For that we must turn to Him who changes not, whose Word endures forever, and who keeps His promises without fail.  That is what we encounter in the water of baptism.  There is Christ and His cross.  There is the embrace of the Father and the gift of the Spirit.  There is the killing of what was already dead and the new birth of that which none of us could make alive.  There is the past event whose continuing significance and blessing forever shapes our Christian identities and lives.

On the Baptism of our Lord we baptized a young man into Christ and then nearly 300 of us passed by the font to dip our fingers into the water, make the sign of the cross, and affirm this life changing event, I am baptized!  I am on a one man crusade to pull baptismal fonts from the corners and into the entrance of the nave and to fill them with water ALL THE TIME so that this annual moment might become a regular remembrance and thanksgiving of our baptisms into Christ.  Reclaim it for yourself, instill it for your children, and witness it for your neighbors -- the most important day of my life was my baptism into Christ!


Anonymous said...

Great post. In addition to this, I would add that baptismal sponsors are supposed to be of the same confession of faith. This seems to rarely happen in the LCMS. My home parish recently had a baptism where one of the sponsors is Mennonite!!

Papa Joe said...

I am pleased to say that the font stands in the narthex in my Lutheran Church, it is the first thing you see when you walk in the front doors, and that it is full of water all the time.

However, to my knowledge, I am the only one to cross myself with the water from it every time I walk into the church.

And I do that because I was raised Roman Catholic and that is how we recalled our baptism.

David Gray said...

When each of our children learn to read we given them a Bible and in the front of the Bible we write the date of their baptism. I wish I could remember the date of my baptism but it is lost. I don't understand the emphasis on sponsors though.