Infant Baptism: A Memory

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.”

One thought on “Infant Baptism: A Memory

  1. It is wonderful to see how baptism feels from the priest’s perspective, and clearly Hank was a cooperative infant. The moment where we all welcome the newly baptized always makes me tear up.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe. I love this so much. I am thinking of all the people with whom I want to share this beautiful message in picture in my mind and the words I have always believed but you articulated. I am for sure sending to our children. Love to you and Amy. I am praying with you about the visa. In the love of Jesus. Deede

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What joe wrote about hank being baptized was absolutely beautiful. Thank you both for all the wonderful things you share with us, as if you don’t have enough to do otherwise. Love, Madeleine

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very good Joe I can picture you and Hank together.

    Godspeed Peter

    On Thu, Aug 22, 2019, 8:01 AM Amy and Joe Go to Africa wrote:

    > Joe Pagano posted: “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 ” >

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s