I started thinking about this some thirty years ago, when I began working with evangelical Protestants on religious freedom and pro-life issues. (“Religious freedom” in that innocent age meant prying “dissident” Christians and Jews out of the clutches of the KGB, not trying to keep the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from bullying the Little Sisters of the Poor.) And I discovered that these folks had an interesting way of introducing themselves at meetings.Lutherans are baptismal people. We take most seriously for our great joy the day when God reached through water to connect us to the cross of Christ, when we were buried with Christ into death and raised with Christ to new and everlasting life, when we put on Christ as clothing of righteousness, when we engrafted onto the Christ the Vine, when we were made members of the Body of Christ and heirs of heaven and all that He has prepared for those who love Him...
Throw a dozen Americans, unknown to each other, together, and the normal way of letting people know who you are is by saying what you do: “I’m Jane Smith and I’m a pediatrician.” Or “I’m John Jones and I work for Microsoft.” That’s not how my new acquaintances identified themselves, however. They’d say, “I’m Jane Smith and I was born again on” such-and-such a date, usually a few years back, when Jane would obviously have been an adult. “I’m John Jones and I was born again on. . . .” And so forth and so on.
When the introductions came around to me, I would say, “I’m George Weigel and I was born again on April 29, 1951—at which point I was precisely twelve days old.” It was a shock to some, but it did get a few interesting conversations about sacramental theology going.
Then, when I was working on the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, I had to describe the Pope’s visit to his home town, Wadowice, during his first papal pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979. He of course went to the church he had known as a boy; but what did he do when he got there? He went straight to the baptismal font, knelt, and kissed it. Why? Because St. John Paul knew that the most important day of his life was the day of his baptism: not the day he was ordained a priest, or consecrated a bishop, or elected pope. The day of his baptism was, literally, the font from which everything else in his life flowed.
Sadly, what Weigel said of Roman Catholics is true of Lutherans as well. We do not remember the day when we went down into the waters as one person and rose up, by the grace and Spirit of God, a new and different person, created anew in Christ Jesus for good works. I ask catechism students this question on the first day of their instruction and nearly every one does not know their baptismal date, does not remember even being told when that date was, and often has trouble finding out the date from their parents. It is a past ritual accomplished and not the powerful moment of our new beginning to be daily remembered and celebrated. And we are poorer for it.
We do not remember this baptismal date as if it were something we did or something to replace a life of faith and faithful works born that faith. No, we remember that date for what God did, according to His promise planted in water by the Word. We remember that date for the life begun in faith from that moment and the life of faith lived out by the power of the Holy Spirit because of God's power and claim in water.
Remember your baptism. Remember that day when your parents brought you or perhaps you came of your own accord to meet the promise of God planted in water. Celebrate what the Lord and does because He is faithful and He will do it. Pray that the Lord who began this good work within you bring it to completion on the day of the Lord. Pray that you be kept holy and blameless in the arms of Jesus. Pray that you will never be distant from His Word or His House or His Table. And tell of the promise of God to those around you, of the gift given in your baptism, and how that gift and new life has formed your identity as a child of God ever since. For this too is answer to the hope that is within you!