I cradle Hank in my left arm and bend my knees a bit so I can take a large scoop of water from the font with my right hand. The head of the altar guild catches my eye as I straighten up, water spilling from my palm. She shoots me a look that says, “Don’t make a mess.”
Last time there was so much water on the floor that she got down on her hands and knees to mop it up. When she stood up, she knocked her head against the font causing an angry welt.
“But,” I silently protest, “it’s supposed to be living water. It’s drowning water.” My mind starts to drift and I correct myself, “No, better to say it’s ‘drowning water’ then ‘living water’. Death then resurrection. ‘In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection.’” The watery symbols begin to swim in my mind.
Hank squirms in my arms as if to say, “Let’s get on with it already.”
I compromise. More than a sprinkle, but not so much as to require an emergency meeting of the altar guild. “Hank, I baptize you in the Name of the Father (swoosh) … and of the Son (swoosh) … and of the Holy Spirit (swoosh).” I try to keep the water flowing throughout the naming of the triune God.
It’s one of the many priestly negotiations I make every Sunday. I know all too well that it’s not my ministry that makes things happen. An acolyte magically appears at my side holding up a container of chrism. I plunge my thumb into the oil. I want Hank to smell the fragrance of balsam as I make the sign of the cross on his forehead saying, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” The acolyte silently recedes.
It’s the church’s work to baptize. I’ve got my part to play, but it’s probably wise not to make a watery, oily spectacle of myself. Get out of the way and let the sacrament speak. Get out of the way and let God speak. We are at best witnesses to the Word attached to this watery sign.
I have come to think that Luther was right about infant baptism. Children have a faith that is properly their own. It’s not the faith of the church or the faith of the godparents somehow standing in for them until they grow up. Rather the word of promise spoken in baptism pulses in children’s tiny ears and through the power of the Holy Spirit creates a trust in their hearts by which they cling to Christ. After all, didn’t John the Baptist leap in Elizabeth’s womb when a pregnant Mary came to visit?
I rearrange Hank in my arms so that we can welcome the newly baptized and his tiny hand grasps one of my fingers. I take a moment to silently acknowledge the gift of receiving one of Hank’s first priestly acts. Strengthened by his blessing, I face the congregation as we say, “Hank, we receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”