12.12.2006

A Whole Lot of Water

"Christianity is about water. 'Everyone who thirsteth, come ye to the waters.' It's about baptism… It's about full immersion, about falling into something elemental and wet. Most of what we do in worldly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under. But in baptism, in lakes and rains and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that's a little sloppy because at the same time it's also holy, and absurd. It's about surrender, giving into all those things we can't control: it's a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched." (Anne Lamott)

Sunday morning, 7:00 a.m. Final run-through of the day's necessary items.
Sermon manuscript: check.
Sweet potato casserole for the potluck: check.
Calendar (can't go anywhere without it): check.
Bible: check.
Swimsuit: check.

Disciples baptize by immersion. It's one of those things I accepted with ever-so-slightly-raised eyebrows when I made the decision to join up with the CC(DoC). My experience of baptism by immersion was limited to that scene in O Brother Where Art Thou. It just seemed rather, well, to borrow a phrase from said movie, old timey. A little bit embarrassing and odd, something that seemed more suited to fanatics than theological progressives. But being the good New Testament Restorationists that we are, Disciples have always looked at the Gospels, noted the abundance of water involved in biblical baptisms, and contracted with pool and jacuzzi companies when constructing new worship spaces.

There was a rumor in seminary that one day us rogue Disciples would be treated to "Stole Camp," in which a local congregation would lend us it's baptistery for an afternoon of dunking lessons. It never happened, and so I was getting pretty nervous about Sunday. A church member volunteered to let me practice on her last week, and I couldn't pass up the offer. I immersed her a good seven or eight times, trying to figure out the best way to throw my strength to make sure the immersion didn't last uncomfortably long. We were giggling the whole time, joking about how holy she would be by the time I was through with her, and pondering what the custodian would think if he walked in while we were swimming around in the front of the sanctuary.

(...it's a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched.)

The baptismal liturgy planned for Sunday was gorgeous. It was mostly borrowed from FCC Pomona, with a few tweaks. While we were getting ready for the plunge, worship leaders drew water from the baptistery, poured it into a beautiful remembering-your-baptism-font (read: fancy candleholder from Pier One), and invited the congregation to come forward and dip their hand into the water. Meanwhile, Allison Krauss & Co. sang Down to the River to Pray (from the soundtrack to the twice-aforementioned movie). After everyone had touched the water, they poured it back into the baptistery.

The sound was beautiful.

And then I baptized the newest member of the Body of Christ, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The water was warm.

I had preached all about baptism. I used the Anne Lamott quote, and talked about how baptism is a sacrament that works in us long after our hair is dry. The whole time I was subtly teasing the whole lot of us for our totally un-modern way of celebrating our new life in Christ. I tease because I have come to believe that it is absolutely wonderful. My baptismal guinea pig and I realized after the fact that it would have been nice to switch places, and let her immerse me. So I would know what it feels like. (I was sprinkled on Palm Sunday, 1981.) Because just as Communion is something we taste, a meal, baptism is a sensory experience. God meeting us in something as ordinary as water, and flowing all around us in a big sloppy embrace.

That was my goofy metaphor to match our goofy practice: baptism as a bear hug from God. The one I baptized confirmed that the metaphor is true.

Thanks be to God.

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