Today my daughter was baptized. It was a wonderful celebration – my wife presided, godparents (four of them!) and family surrounded her with love, and the congregation welcomed her into the church. Add to that a nice reception at the church and pizza back at home on an unseasonably warm late November day, and it was a great day to celebrate the things God is and will do through Cana.
Yet I would be remiss if I did not admit to some curiosity – doubt? – about what it is that happens in baptism. Is baptism a symbol, a ritual that gives life and gesture to what God has already done in her life? Put another way, was this event purely social in nature, a rite of passage, a ritual of introduction into a community of shared values and beliefs? Or is baptism a true means of grace – an event through which God acts in a unique and timely way? In this way, are the water and words of this sacrament hokus pokus, a significant act of immense proportions that somehow affects a dramatic change in the child’s relationship with God and with the faith community? What does this baptism mean?
I can analyze and deconstruct baptism, reducing it to mere human creation and opiate for the masses. But I wont. Whether baptism is a symbol made of human hands, or a true bath from the hands of God, it is for me a holy moment when the promise of God is spoken.
For without the Word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a "bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit," as St Paul says to Titus in chapter 3."
– Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism (from Wengert/Kolb translation of The Book of Concord)
Baptism is a holy moment, a grace-filled water of life, a bath of new birth in the Holy Spirit. I know that God has blessed my child since before she was formed in the womb, and will continue to bless her whether or not she is baptized. But she is baptized, and I pray that her baptism will be a comfort to her as it was to Luther, who said in his Large Catechism
We must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say: "But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body."
– Large Catechism, Baptism 44 (from Wengert/Kolb translation of The Book of Concord)
She is baptized! She has received the bath of new life, and heard God’s words of promise. On this she can most certainly depend and draw strength.