November 19, 2017

“We keep returning to its rich waters thirsty”

baptized

I was baptized as an infant in 1958. My sainted grandmother gave me some books then and in my preschool years about Jesus, heaven, and the twelve disciples. A while back, when my parents moved, my mother found those books and gave them to me again. I remember looking through them with fascination when I was a little boy and, in combination with my grandmother’s prayers, I’m sure they had an influence on me. I can say that I am here today as a Christian and a minister because of God’s gifts of water, words about Jesus, and the faithful prayers of those who loved and nurtured me.

Last Sunday, two of my grandchildren were baptized. One is now twelve years old and his little sister has been in this world only a few months. After they were baptized, the pastors put the baby in my grandson’s arms and he walked up and down the aisle of the church while the congregation sang a song of blessing upon them. At an open house later, I gave my grandson a present. When he unwrapped his gift he found the three books my grandmother had given me almost sixty years ago. I told him I was entrusting them to him and that he should take such good care of them that he can one day pass them on to his grandchildren.

May my prayers for him and all my grandchildren be as faithful and loving as my grandmother’s were for me. May God’s gift of water, words about Jesus, and such prayers cover them with blessings for all their years.

Among Martin Luther’s greatest contributions is lifting up what Evangelical Lutheran Worship calls “the baptismal life” — a baptismal spirituality, or even a baptismal way of living. From a Lutheran perspective, this washing with water in the name of the triune God among the gathered Christian assembly is at the center of one’s whole life as a Christian. We might describe baptism as the wellspring from which the entire Christian life flows. Jesus’ words to the woman at the well in John 4:14, promising a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life,” are often applied to baptism. This spring gushes up from the font, where, as Romans 6 assures us, we are liberated from sin and death by being joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. From the font, God’s spring of living water flows freely and powerfully throughout the gathered assembly, its ripples extending into every day of the Christian’s life. The streams of the baptismal spring include nurture, formation, initiation, return, affirmation, vocation, remembrance, and, ultimately, the completion of God’s promise in the life to come, when the wellspring of baptism overflows in new life.

• Dennis L. Bushkofsky, Craig A. Satterlee
The Christian Life: Baptism and Life Passages

Though the Lutheran liturgy was not followed in last Sunday’s baptism, I couldn’t help but think of it as I stood there watching. There are several different, though similar forms, and here is one of them:

baptized 2Blessed are you, O God, maker and ruler of all things. Your voice thundered over the waters at creation. You water the mountains and send springs into the valleys to refresh and satisfy all living things.

Through the waters of the flood you carried those in the ark to safety. Through the sea you led your people Israel from slavery to freedom. In the wilderness you nourished them with water from the rock, and you brought them across the river Jordan to the promised land.

By the baptism of his death and resurrection, your Son Jesus has carried us to safety and freedom. The floods shall not overwhelm us, and the deep shall not swallow us up, for Christ has brought us over to the land of promise. He sends us to make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Pour out your Holy Spirit; wash away sin in this cleansing water; clothe the baptized with Christ; and claim your daughters and sons, no longer slave and free, no longer male and female, but one with all the baptized in Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

This is one of my favorite texts recited in worship. I love how these words trace the life-giving, life-sustaining power of water throughout the scriptures. God saves us in and through the waters, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).

A few days before the service, I had a conversation with my grandson about the meaning of baptism, and we talked about why we use water in the ceremony. First, I reminded him about how when you take a bath or shower, the water rinses you clean. In the same way God washes our hearts clean, forgiving and renewing us in Jesus. Second, since he had just experienced the birth of a baby sister in his home, I asked him if he remembered how he had been there the night his mama’s water broke and then she went to the hospital and had the baby. I told him how mothers carry babies in their wombs in a sac of water and that when that water flows it signals a new life coming into the world. Even so, in baptism, the water flows over us and we are born into God’s family.

I suppose I will keep trying to think of ways to talk to him and my other grandchildren in years to come about how God’s gift of water sustains us, refreshes us, renews us, and keeps on cleansing us throughout our earthly journey.

We never outgrow our need for water. And, as Wendell Berry says, “It survives our thirst.” God’s provision is always there, always greater than our need. May all the baptized keep coming back to the well for more.

We are also aware, however, that in this groaning world many live in dry or polluted places, where access to clean water is a problem. May the baptized lead the way in working to quench their thirst and heal their lands.

And may we all help each other, that we may keep “returning to [God’s] rich waters thirsty.”

Like the water
of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all,
or want it all.
In its abundance
it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill,
and sleep,
while it flows
through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us,
except we keep returning to its rich waters
thirsty.

We enter,
willing to die,
into the commonwealth of its joy.

• Wendell Berry
“Like the Water”

Comments

  1. From the Vespers of Holy Theophany:

    Trinity beyond all being, beyond all goodness, beyond all godhead, all-powerful, all-vigilant, invisible, incomprehensible; Creator of the spiritual beings and rational natures, innate goodness, unapproachable Light that enlightens everyone coming into the world, shine also in me your unworthy servant.

    Enlighten the eyes of my mind that I may dare to sing the praise of your measureless benevolence and power. May my supplication for the people here present be acceptable, so that my offences may not prevent the Holy Spirit from being present here; but permit me now without condemnation to cry out to you and say, Master, lover of mankind, beyond all goodness, Almighty, eternal King. We glorify you, the Creator and Fashioner of the universe. We glorify you, only-begotten Son of God, without father from your Mother, without mother from your Father.

    For in the preceding feast [Christmas] we saw you as a babe, but in the present one we see you full and perfect man, our God, made manifest as perfect God from perfect God. For today the moment of the feast is here for us and the choir of saints assembles here with us, and Angels keep festival with mortals. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dwelt upon the waters.

    Today the Sun that never sets has dawned and the world is made radiant with the light of the Lord. Today the Moon with its radiant beams sheds light on the world. Today the stars formed of light make the inhabited world lovely with the brightness of their splendour. Today the clouds rain down from heaven the shower of justice for mankind.

    Today the Uncreated by his own will accepts the laying on of hands by his own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner draws near, but stands by with fear seeing God’s condescension towards us.

    Today the streams of Jordan are changed into healing by the presence of the Lord. Today all creation is watered by mystical streams. Today the failings of mankind are being washed away by the waters of Jordan. Today Paradise is opened for mortals and the Sun of justice shines down on us. Today the bitter water as once for Moses’ people is changed to sweetness by the presence of the Lord. Today we have been delivered from the ancient grief, and saved as the new Israel. Today we have been redeemed from darkness and are filled with radiance by the light of the knowledge of God. Today the gloomy fog of the world is cleansed by the manifestation of our God.

    Today all creation shines with light from on high. Today error has been destroyed and the coming of the Master makes for us a way of salvation. Today things on high keep festival with those below, and those below commune with those on high. Today the sacred and triumphant festal assembly of the Orthodox exults.

    Today the Master hastens towards baptism, that he may lead humanity to the heights. Today the One who does not bow bows down to his own servant, that he may free us from servitude. Today we have purchased the Kingdom of heaven, for the Kingdom of the Lord will have no end. Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world has been filled with gladness.

    The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and were afraid. The Jordan turned back when it saw the fire of the godhead descending in bodily form and entering it. The Jordan turned back as it contemplated the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending and flying about you. The Jordan turned back as it saw the Invisible made visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant. The Jordan turned back and the mountains leapt as they saw God in the flesh, and the clouds uttered their voice, marvelling at what had come to pass, seeing Light from Light, true God from true God, the Master’s festival today in Jordan; seeing him drowning the death from disobedience, the goad of error and the bond of Hell in Jordan and granting the Baptism of salvation to the world.

    Therefore I too, a sinner and your unworthy servant, recount the greatness of your wonders and, seized with fear, in compunction cry out to you:

    Great are you, O Lord, and wonderful your works, and no word is adequate to sing the praise of your wonders Glory to you, Lord, glory to you!”

  2. PastorM says:

    What a blessing to see Pastor Andy baptizing your grandchildren. I had the privilege of serving as his pastor during his teenage years.

  3. I am also reminded of one of Father Alexander Schmemann’s appendices in “For the Life of the World”. He talks about the blessing of water, and how it has nothing to do with making the water magical, but how it is a revelation of deep truths about water that are already present.

  4. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of becoming a godparent for the first time. Two weeks ago tomorrow, I had the privilege of becoming an actual parent for the first time! I had bought my daughter her first Book of Common Prayer and her first Bible about a month before she was born. I’m doing the same for my godson (who just turned 10). I hope that they will each get a lot of use out of those gifts, and I look forward into helping them in their growth in the Lord, especially through prayer, but also through some more hands-on means.

    The day before we went to the hospital to have the baby, I randomly dropped in on a friend of mine who is a fellow-priest and who is a father of five. He told me that when he was about to have his first child, a mentor of his told him that he’d never be a true theologian until he became a dad. While obviously hyperbolic, I think I see what he means.

    • Damaris says:

      Congratulations, Fr. Isaac! Daughters are a great blessing. God will indeed reveal himself to you through parenthood.

  5. As a newly called pastor, I have now had the privilege of baptizing several people. Having been called to serve a Baptist Church, I’ve been tipping them over backwards, holding them under, and then raising them up.

    Since then, baptism has been a touchstone of my preaching. As I have been encouraging people in faith, I have repeatedly been pointing them to their baptism, something like this:

    “Do you remember that sensation of tipping over backwards, out of control, helpless, down into the water? Do you remember what it was like being submerged and trusting that your pastor would indeed lift you up out of the water to restore you to an upright position, dripping but safe? That is a picture of your faith.

    When Christ takes hold of you, you feel out of control and even as you feel yourself going down you are hoping that he will lift you up. That sensation of falling, that is a common sensation to the faithful. Learn to embrace it for it is Christ killing you to raise you up. That nauseous feeling of giving yourself over to gravity, that is a universal experience of those who trust in God. Learn to lean into those arms, as it is Christ taking you down.

    Lean and trust never fearing. Whatever waters he will use to bury you, he will always lift you up. That is his promise. And when you emerge, although death may still be running off you in rivulets, the warm sun of his love will soon enough dry you where you stand, in the eternal light of his approval.

    Consider this little dip but a practice run for the work Christ is doing in you and will continue to do in you until he is done baptizing you. By faith and by baptism he has made and is making you a new creation. Remember what it feels like and return to it often.”

  6. grberry says:

    How meaningful, and thus beautiful, that Lutheran liturgy is. How much paler the experience of my baptism, and those I saw since in my former church. There is a value in supplementing a liturgy with a testimony from the person being baptized – but the testimony is no substitute for the meaning crystalized in that liturgy. And a testimony too often focuses on the decision of the baptizee, not God’s work in preparing them.

  7. Stephen says:

    It’s strange that a ritual so mythologically and theologically significant and so rich in imagery and even mystical association should be so undervalued by some of our Christian traditions. Including unfortunately the one in which I was raised. But this is not a bashing post. I merely note the irony of calling yourself a Baptist and treating baptism as almost an afterthought. A act to be performed and then promptly forgotten about. Consequently it meant very little to me.

    Over the years I have become fascinated by these associations. I was interested to learn recently of a Middle Eastern community called the Mandeans. They are an ethnic community who though non-Abrahamic nevertheless revere John the Baptist as a great spiritual teacher. They practice baptism as their chief sacrament. It is not initiatory; you are born into the group or not at all. No conversions. For them baptism functions like Communion amongst Christians. Both a symbol and a transformative reality.

    Now I’m not defending them or criticizing them. I don’t judge them at all. I am simply fascinated by the varieties of human belief. Like endless variations on a musical theme.

  8. Christiane says:

    Baptism is very much about our dying and rising to life in Christ,
    and about the coming of the Holy Spirit in renewed creation . . .

    Christ is ‘Alpha’
    ” And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. . . . ” (Gen. 1:3)

    and Christ is ‘Omega’
    ” . . . And the sea gave up the dead which were in it . . . ” (Rev. 20:13)

    What is holy is only sacred to us because it makes Christ present to us:

    “See where you are baptized, see where Baptism comes from,
    if not from the cross of Christ, from His death.
    There is the whole mystery: He died for you. In Him you are redeemed, in Him you are saved “ (St. Ambrose)

    “A stream flows whispering inside me; Deep within me it says: ‘Come to the Father’ ” (Ignatius of Antioch)

    “. . . said Jill, coming another step nearer.
    “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

    “There is no other stream,”
    said the Lion.”

    (C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair )

  9. Robert F says:

    “Take me to the river, wash me in the water….”

    • Christiane says:

      🙂 I never thought of that ‘fish’ as religious. But now I see.

      (I’m rather sorry we sold ours at a garage sale when the ‘fad’ had run its course. In about forty years or so, those ‘fish’ will be collectors’ items. It was a ‘keeper’ and I didn’t realize it at the time. )