Last Sunday was a day in the Christian Church for remembering the baptism of the Lord. In many United Methodist churches, adults were invited to come forward and receive water on the forehead as a way of remembering their own baptism. In some churches there were probably also first-time baptisms.
In our service at Parker United Methodist Church, Lockett’s parents brought him to worship for the first time, even though he was only three weeks old. While Gabe, the proud father held him after worship, many of us gathered around to celebrate his presence. Margaret, his mom who is a fashion person, had dressed him in a cute little outfit which we all admired.
Looking back on the meaning of the moment, our welcoming of Lockett and his parents with loving interest was like a baptism without water. We poured our loving-kindness over them all, baptizing them with an unspoken message: “Your baby and your lives matter to us, and you are welcome into God’s family in this place.”
Our hearts were especially open to them, perhaps in part because babies have a way of drawing people into a state of wonder and awareness of grace. A fresh life offers us innate joy and hope. An infant’s vulnerability calls us to protect them, and also helps us embrace our own vulnerability.
The parents let me hold Lockett even though he was crying. I tried to comfort him by kissing him on each cheek and speaking comforting words. But he was getting a little worked up. So Gabe took him back and showed us a holding posture that immediately comforted his son.
So what did all of that have to do with baptism? Many years ago my wife and I were touched as we saw our first baby baptism. We were moved as the pastor took the child from his parents and walked around the congregation–explaining why United Methodists baptize infants. He described the act as a symbol of God’s grace, which is here for us before we even know what’s happening.
He beamed as he expressed the great truth that God’s love for us and embracing of us comes before we can understand any of it, and said the baptism shows God’s prevenient grace. We found that image moving, a reminder that grace is never about our believing or doing the right things. And that was one of the reasons we joined that church.
Last Sunday, we started teaching the same truth to Lockett and his parents. The little man is welcome in our community just like his parents are, and we have started loving him before he can know or understand it. He doesn’t have to earn our acceptance. He’s got it now. We are offering him what God offers us.
We started his baptism without water. Perhaps in days ahead we will baptize him with water too, as the truth of prevenient grace continues to unfold among us.