In my imagination, I visualize a young couple, married in 1926, who are bringing their three-month-old son to be baptized. The mother is three years younger than the father, who is 26. Fast forward about 25 years and the mother is saying to her son, “I want you to have this certificate of your baptism by Pastor Miller at St. Johns.”
I see that large certificate every day in its heavy frame of wide molding. I have shown it to numerous children and challenged them to ask their parents about their own baptism—with the hope and prayer that the children will cherish that baptism.
One day in Galilee, Jesus went to the Jordan river and sought baptism. John hesitated. After all, they were first cousins by virture of Elizabeth, John’s mother and Mary being sisters. Surely they talked about God and faith and prayer. Each of them knew the religious feelings of the other.
So when Jesus sought baptism, John was surprised and reacted accordingly. “What? Me baptize you?” Certainly John and Jesus must have had many conversations about their spiritual life and how they were aware that God expected something of them.
One of the worries or fears of every pastor is that the parents of many an infant who is brought to God’s attention for baptism will not nourish faith and devotion in that child, that a child will not be given opportunities to discuss what God expects of them.
On the other hand, some of the most significant funerals I have attended whether I was in the pulpit or a pew, have been for some elderly person whose baptism as an infant and funeral at an advanced age were held in the same church.
At a funeral where I was in the congregation, I had no small sense of envy for the man whose baptism and burial were bracketed within the life of the same congregation. That doesn’t happen much anymore.
His was a life that had been marked by the grace of God from start to finish. And the source of that sense of completion was right there in the service, in the prayer of commendation, which is the crux, the heart of the burial order.
If this part were left out, nothing else would matter. In one of the orders for a funeral, we say what we would have said at the moment of death if we had been standing by.
Would we remind God of how good you were, lest he forget? Does the service hold up your spiritual life, how often you prayed, or how long you were a member of any congregation, or how much money you gave? Maybe God should not be reminded of those things.
Imagine looking at your own funeral. At the moment that matters the most, the pastor touches your coffin and says, “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant” and your name is spoken.
“Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him or her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.”
Is that not full of faith and promise and joy eternal? In that crucial moment of saying what needs to be said, all the attention is on God. “Your fold, your flock, your redeeming, receive him or her, your mercy.”
The point of the funeral is to say on this special occasion that the life of the Christian is encompassed within and bracketed by God’s grace, so that because of his love for us we are people of God.
In remembering our baptism, we know who we are and we know whose we are. I find great comfort in life knowing that upon my death I trust a congregation will petition Almighty God to “Acknowledge this sinner of your own redeeming.”
The word of the Gospel, the message of salvation, and the promise of the Risen Jesus Christ is that he will know us in the moment when death becomes the gate to eternal life.
All this talk about our own baptism and funeral is to say that we can go thru life trying to live by the power of our own ego, in which we pat ourselves on the back,
or we can go through life from birth until death by God’s grace and mercy in which he is the active agent. Are there people who go through life with the unspoken question, “How can I be at the center of everything?”
Not giving God the center of our attention is what the Bible calls sin, living in the dark, disobedient. Or is life ruled by Gospel power? How do you tell the difference? Then ask what difference your baptism makes.
Some may say, “Well, I don’t ever think of my baptism. I’m just not all that impressed. My parents said I was baptized, but it was just something they told me. I don’t remember it.”
There’s not a single person who remembers birth, yes, our own birth. There’s no denying something important happened then, although we cannot recall a single moment of the process.
Nor did anyone have anything to do with his or her own conception, done without our consultation, without our agreement, without any personal involvement. Baptism works the same way.
If we think God smiles upon us because of what sweet little boys and girls we have been, then we need to read again the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Surely Jesus would have started things on the right foot in order to move toward the goal of his life.
When Matthew, Mark, and Luke looked back over the life of the Risen Christ, and asked what should be written to tell the story of Jesus, there’s a reason each of them came to the same conclusion about how to begin the story of his ministry.
“Then Jesus came to John, to be baptized by him.” That’s where our biography must begin.
Anytime we think our baptism is in a secondary position, we must go back to Jordan and see the Son of God submit to baptism to signal us that he was fully human, and like each one of us, depending on God’s grace.
Baptism is something that God does. Our own baptism, or that of Jesus, is the sign that God has set aside Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden, and has adopted us as his children.
Baptism is not what we say to God, as though we have to send the right signal. Baptism is God’s signal to us that we can expect to rise with Christ in Resurrection.
He joined our way of life when he submitted to baptism. And just like all humanity, he suffered death. His life was bracketed by God from the Bethlehem announcement of the angels until Resurrection morning and his return to life beyond the grave.
We who are joined with him can expect to be raised with him on the last day to eternal life.
It is in baptism, his and ours, that we find the meaning of life and the world. The world? Yes, it is in God’s hand. God is in charge. He is a loving God. We are the sheep of his fold, the lambs of his own flock, sinners of his own redeeming.
The meaning of life? We live by the grace of a caring, loving God, powerful God who expressed himself in the form of Jesus Christ.
In his cruel death on the cross, Jesus accepted the judgment of an anry God upon the entire human race, godless and unjust.
Then Jesus showed by his resurrection that a merciful God will have the last word . He will count us sinners acceptable to himself purely by his pure umerited grace . God declares us to be freed from punishment because of his love for us.
Jesus so completely humbled himself that he became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. God resurrected him and promises the same for us.
God’s view of the world and of us is colored and shaded by the baptism of Jesus who humbled himself to be baptized by John.
So when you think of baptism, or come to the Lord’s Table, or hear that your sins are forgiven, or hear the Gospel, or hear the commendation of the faithful at a funeral, then say to yourself, —
“The heavens open, the dove comes, the Father speaks, the Son of God stands in the water, and we are all with him there.”
When Our Lord was baptized, he joined his life with ours, that he might encompass and bracket your life and mine from start to finish with his grace that goes on and on from age to age, generation after generation.
The promise of God is that because we are joined by baptism with Jesus Christ in his baptism, death and resurrection, we will certainly hear God say that we are his,
and he is well pleased.
Therefore, do not fear death. Rather, cherish Jesus’ baptism and connect it with your own. It is the beginning of life eternal.