This Sunday we will have an opportunity to renew our baptismal vows. At a point in the service I will ask those of you who wish to come forward to the baptismal font. There I will place water on your brow (of the back of your hand if that is more comfortable for you) and say: “You are God’s beloved child. Remember your baptism and be grateful.”
Why would we do this? It’s because this Sunday the Church remembers the baptism of Jesus and calls us to remember our own as well. On this day Christians around the world are reminded of our life’s core covenant with God: our baptism. This day on the church calendar is a time to renew all that act of faith represents and to renew our own vows.
For those of us who grew up Catholic or in mainline Protestant churches (Congregational, Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Methodist, for instance) we were baptized as infants and our parents made these vows. They promised to raise us in the Christian faith to be followers of Christ. So we may ask, “How can I remember my baptism when I didn’t even know my name?” Good question. It sometimes feels like baptism was something done to us, rather than by us. But obviously something took root or you wouldn’t be reading this! The focus in this tradition is that God is always the initiator in extending love and grace to us.
But at some point in your life you claimed for yourself the meanings that were claimed for you at your baptism. You decided that you wanted to be a Christ-follower; you experienced the presence of God in your life; you discovered the reality of forgiveness, of answered prayer, of undeserved love, of power to do the right thing, or the astounding mystery and delight of creation. Whether at your Confirmation, a re-commitment ceremony at a summer camp, or during a walk in the woods, you knew God was profoundly real and said, “Yes!” “This is true!” “These promises my parents made for me I now make them on my own!”
Others of you may have been raised in a Baptist or non-denominational tradition that practices “believer’s baptism.” As an adult, young or old, you made a response to God. We might call it conversion, believing, accepting Christ or whatever, but baptism follows an assent of faith. This tradition emphasizes the need of the baptized to respond to God’s offer of love and grace and also recognizes that the Christian faith is a journey with times of renewal and recommitment.
Both traditions capture the truth found in baptism: God always makes the first move toward us, yet at some point we must respond. Over the years I have found more comfort in the knowledge that baptism is not a sign that I have accepted Christ, but that Christ has accepted me. God’s love and grace are extended toward us eternally and continuously. There is nothing we can do to diminish or dispel them. If baptism is a sacrament (“an outward visible sign of an inward invisible grace”) then it is a “sign of God’s grace,” not of our response. It is about God, not about us. It is a day to celebrate that we were, are, and always will be loved by our God. So in the face of this kind of relentless and perpetual love we remember our baptism and say “Thank you!”