Gratitude for Baptism

Gratitude for Baptism

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton


When I was a pastor there was a ritual that I used at least twice a year. When I first decided to try it, I thought that there would be a limited response. What I discovered was that the reaction was greater than I ever could have imagined. This simple act, to my surprise, met an unrealized need. What I encountered was a level of emotion that I had underestimated. The ritual was “The Re-Affirmation of Baptism.”

I used very simple language: “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” I employed a very simple action: the sign of the cross with water on the forehead. The result was an emotion that could not have predicted. People longed to know and be reminded of God’s claim on their lives. It meant something to remind them that nothing separated them from the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. It moved them to know that they were a child of God, no matter who they were or what they had faced in their lives. Those simple words, “Remember, and be thankful,” had a major effect on their spiritual journeys.

A few weeks ago, I was approached by one of our pastors about whether I would be willing to perform a baptism as a part of my visit to his local church. I readily agreed not knowing any of the specifics. What I discovered later was that there was a four-year old boy who was being “poured” instead of “sprinkled.” My first reaction was one of concern. How will this little boy handle the water? What significance will this day have for him? 

When I met Sammy, I was pleasantly surprised at how ready he was for his big day. When the time came, he confidently climbed onto a little stool positioned behind the baptismal font and dutifully bowed his head over the basin. When I tipped the pitcher over his head I noticed how cold the water was. Yet, Sammy never flinched. It was evident that he looked forward to the event, desired the water and, even though only four, he seemed to somehow understand the significance of what he had agreed to do. To put it simply, Sammy loved the water.

There seems to be power in the water and real significance in its meaning. After I baptized Sammy, I thought to myself, “How wonderful it is transmit God’s grace and love through this sacrament.” It blessed me to realize in that moment that this sacrament—this act of the church that affirms our place in God’s family—was reaching people of all ages. Whether it’s a baby claimed by God before they can ever acknowledge God’s presence, a four-year old who is only now coming to the awareness of God’s love, or an elderly person who, at the end of life, needs to once again know how deeply they are loved, we need the sign of the water and the feel of God’s touch on their lives. Whether it’s a first-time baptism or an act to remember what God did on our behalf, there is a real power in the ability to teach and remind people how deeply God loves us. 
In this world of terrorism, violence, judgement and degrading behaviors we have a wonderful opportunity to remind our people that there is a path that leads to hope, joy, and acceptance. What a four-year boy experienced was much more than naïve optimism. It was more than the liking or anticipating the ritual. It was the power of God at work through a simple basin of water. 

What would it look like if we took the lead from a four-year old? What would it look like if we loved the water, actively engaged with its symbolism, and cherished the church’s ability to transform its meaning into a constant reminder of God’s love for us? What would it look like if we longed to have God’s grace poured over us in a symbolic act of God’s grace? What would it look like if we wanted the water, longed for it, and couldn’t wait to experience the presence of God in our midst?

Those longings for God’s presence create the climate for spiritual renewal and transformation in our lives. They open us to the possibility of seeing God in new and fresh ways in our midst. They give us the courage and hope that God might use us to bless someone else on the journey. 

There isn’t anything magical about a font of water. What is amazing, though, is that God can use the simplest of things to have an eternal impact on our lives, even a simple basin of cold water.

Dear friends, every one of us needs reminders. We are loved and are a special part of God’s family. It all starts with a basin of water and a simple statement: “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” 

Thanks be to God.

The Journey Continues, . . .

Thomas J. Bickerton