“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.
The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” (Book of Common Prayer, 298)
These two phrases express the mysterious reality at the heart of the sacrament of baptism: that all baptized persons, regardless how old or young, are members of Christ’s body and ministers of the gospel. All are called to eat and drink at his table, and then to go into the world in peace, to love and to serve the Lord.
I do mean all. If you’re preparing for your infant to be baptized, you may wonder: how can such a young child be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can tiny babies, who can’t walk or talk, really serve the Lord?
They can, and they do. One ministered to me during a Christmas Day Eucharist a couple of years ago. I was at the altar, praying the eucharistic prayer thanking God “for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation…and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son,” when an infant cried aloud. She was an audible sign of the Incarnation, reminding us what Jesus would have sounded like at the beginning of his life: not yet able to speak recognizable words, but already skilled at communicating needs and connecting to her fellow creatures. That baby girl glorified God, and served as a minister of the gospel, simply by being who she is.
Of course, children need guidance as they grow, to understand more fully what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the household of the church. That’s why parents and godparents promise, at baptism, to “be responsible for seeing that the child [they] present is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” to pray for the child, and to be a witness for them to what Christian faith and life look like in practice. And that’s why the community doesn’t leave parents and godparents to do that work alone, but promises to “do all in [our] power to support [those being baptized] in their life in Christ.” All of us do that work of formation trusting that God will guide us, help us, and bless our efforts.
I see the fruit of those efforts when I hear young children, every Sunday, praying the Lord’s Prayer with enthusiasm. They’re proud to have learned the words, and I imagine Jesus smiling along with me at their joy and focus. I see it when children come forward for communion with their hands outstretched, and respond to my “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven” with “Amen.”
But what about when you’re sitting in church with a child who won’t say the prayers and can’t seem to keep still, or with a grouchy teen-ager who’s there under protest? Those moments, more challenging for parents, are another visible sign of God’s grace and a testament to who we are as Christians. We are all forgiven sinners, who come together weekly to celebrate the resurrection, and who support each other daily as we seek to hear Jesus Christ’s call and follow him. No fidgeting, no bad mood, not even a family argument can get in the way of that. Alleluia!
The next two opportunities for you or your child to be baptized are All Saints Sunday, November 3rd, or the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 12th 2014. Please talk to your child’s catechist, to Rhonda, or to our rector, Jonah, if you are considering baptism.