I had not planned on bringing my two-year old into the Vespers service Sunday evening. But plans change, and he ended up with me standing tip toe on the back pew, giving commentary every two seconds:
“Dat’s water?” Yes, I told him.
“Dat’s the big boys, IN the water?” Yes. We’re Baptists, so we go all in. Chest deep into the pool at the front of the chapel. (He’s a fan of the big boys – 4th and 5th graders mostly)
“What dey laughin’ about?” That, I couldn’t tell you, son.
The precious boy standing in the baptismal waters was CRACKING up. And I loved it. He got so tickled and couldn’t stop. I mean, lots of people get emotional in this moment of symbolism. But laughter during a baptism delighted me as much as when a couple gets the giggles and laughs during their wedding. It’s just effervescent joy.
There was so much joy in the chapel. It so happened that this crew of five baptismal candidates were all related: siblings and cousins. It makes sense, really. As one kiddo begins conversations about their faith journey, the ones listening nearby start to get in on the conversation, too. And once they had each proclaimed to their church that they were ready to go all in and let baptism mark their identity, it was a little hilarious to hear about how they coached each other through the actual event of getting soaking wet in the baptismal pool. Standing in the back, the 6th grade girl turned to Pastor Jake and said, “Can I ask you something?” He nodded and leaned in, thinking she had a deep theological reflection. “Am I the first one to go in?” When Jake replied yes, she was first, she faced her cousins, fist punched the air and yelled “Boom!”
And that, people, is how we should jump into the baptismal waters. A little bit of old school excitement, like the gospel hymn we used to sing: “The world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back, no turning back.” Boom.
Being a sucker for ritual, my heart sings when the person takes the minister’s outstretched hand and enters the water. I look for that moment when the minister touches the person’s lips with salt and gives them a candle to carry out from the water.
There is one part that gets me every time, though. Like many churches, we name how the community mattered on the journey to baptism. Family members are asked to stand. And then anyone who has had a role in this person’s faith development stands: Sunday School teachers, choir leaders, youth chaperones. This is the moment I tear up. Every. Single. Time. Because when you look around and see these people standing – gifted, kind, flawed, wonderful people – you can’t help but think about the moments. Maybe these folks thought their moment didn’t matter. What is one Sunday School lesson or one youth pizza party? But the moments added up and made a disciple. Looking out from the waters, the newly baptized person gets a tiny snapshot of their great cloud of witnesses. They hear that they did not get to this point alone and when they step out of the waters they do not walk out of the waters alone. You’ve got your people. Your great cloud of goofy, hilarious, faithful, caring witnesses.
I’m so very thankful for the faithful who are with us in the journey of guiding this curious two year old in his own faith journey. When we left the service – not because it was over but because I was completely over trying to keep him from exploring the guitar laying nearby us – I asked him what he saw. Being a Pastor’s kid, he always gets excited to see his Daddy doing his minister thing (at least maybe until he’s a teenager). Oh, Cloud of Witnesses, we may have a little work to do. He offered this summation of the worship service:
“Well, Jesus fell in da water. Da big kids jumped in. Daddy throwed them in da water! Whoosh!”
And, there you go.