One way to cause clergy and laity alike to near-riot is to post something on one's Facebook page regarding baptism during Lent. I think perhaps only the Alabama-Auburn rivalry has a deeper divide. One faction holds that Lent is a penitential season; therefore, baptisms, except in situations of pastoral emergency, should be delayed until the season of Easter. The opposing side views baptisms on Sunday in Lent as perfectly appropriate in the normal course of worship, because Sundays are ALWAYS feasts of the Resurrection. As always in the Anglican tradition, there are valid points across the spectrum.
My comment, however, had more to do with the way baptism is often seen in the church. Too many times, it is a social event, a rite of passage where family and friends gather to smile and take pictures as a baby is baptized in great-grandmother's christening gown. I heard one priest comment, "Baptism is my favorite thing to do. I love to baptize." I've been in parishes where the baptism seemed more like a child's birthday party than a deep sacrament that intertwined love and courage, danger and faith.
Because baptism is all of that. The consequence of baptism for Jesus in Sunday's Gospel reading was to be driven out into the desert. Not to have unicorns dance around, but to delve deeply into the desert places of his own soul, to plunge into his own ego and see the places where temptation could take root. What if that is a real consequence of baptism for us, as well? Perhaps not that day, but an inevitable consequence of the sacrament - that we will be called into our desert places and changed?
In the prayers of baptism, we recall the Exodus story, perhaps the most foundational story of the human experience with God. The Hebrews were enslaved, and their freedom came at great cost and human death. Their freedom also came with a covenant that God would love them and they would keep God's commandments. When we are baptized, we bind ourselves to that covenant, that we will keep God's commandments to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves.
Sounds pretty, doesn't it? Bring on the cake and unicorns.
Baptism, however, brings consequences. We are washed in water and the blood of the Lamb to a new life. Baptism means we will believe in a faith community and belong to a faith community and pray with that faith community (in short, get to church more than once or twice a year). Baptism means we will speak truth to power, even when doing so is dangerous. Baptism means we will see Christ in all people, even those who anger, abuse, and demean us. Baptism calls us to a radical shift in life. It drives us out into the desert to drop into the deep recesses of our souls, to see the dark places where temptation takes root and flourishes into sin. Baptism overwhelms us with an awareness that we will not keep God's commandments, and when we do, we will repent and seek forgiveness from God and from those we've wounded with our sinful action or inaction.
Baptism brings consequences. Our story is filled with saints who were baptized and lived into the consequences. Ignatius of Antioch was baptized, and martyred for his faith. Oscar Romero was baptized...and murdered for the truth he spoke to power. Jonathan Daniels was baptized...and martyred for seeking and serving Christ in all people, regardless of race. I wonder if their parents, as they watched these children baptized, thought of the consequences. Did the priests who poured the water on Oscar and Jonathan know they were calling them to a life of such profound love that it would end with gunshots?
I wonder when we celebrate baptism if those of us who pour the Holy Water over tiny heads think we may be baptizing a child of God into a life of Christlike courage...even unto death. I think that. I hope all clergy think that. Because we might be.
I wonder, when we celebrate baptism, if we remember that the commitment to live a life of Christ means we are willing to walk the road of Crucifixion to get to Resurrection. And we will walk that road. We will have our selves and souls crucified as we live our lives. Nails will pierce our egos. Swords with slit our hopes and dreams. And we will crawl into the tomb to die, to feel our souls waste away, until...
Until the waters of baptism sweep over us, drowning us with breath and life. And the tomb opens to new life.
I stand in awe and fear of baptism. I pray the words of the Thanksgiving over the Water with trepidation and hope and faith. I pour the Holy Water of God over the person with an awareness that I should probably take off my shoes at the powerful presence of this moment. I wonder how God will use this life to be a witness to love, and I pray that this child will have a peaceful, easy road in this witness, even though the evidence is to the contrary.
Whether we baptize in Lent or only on particular Sundays, whether we baptize infants or children or youth or adult, however we baptize, I pray that we stand in holy humility and awe of the sacrament that has and will continue to drive us out of the comfort of our lives into the obedience of a life lived in Christ's love.