A few years ago, I was at a seminary gathering where we were discussing our thoughts and opinions on baptism. As we were talking, my friend Steve’s face lit up and he shouted with a sense of earnestness and desperation in his voice, “You know what? I would love to get baptized again!”
Though a comment like this can bring about multiple theological disputes regarding how or when a person should be baptized, I could sincerely understand where he was coming from. Steve was baptized as an infant. Yet the first twenty-some years of his life looked a lot like the life of the younger son in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. He left the church as he graduated from high school and squandered his college years in seemingly “unholy” things—alcohol, drugs, and sex. However, by the grace of God, it was in this time of deep wandering that he encountered Jesus in a radical way. And his life began to change, slowly but surely, in every way possible.
Steve therefore wanted to celebrate this new life. He longed to commemorate God’s redemptive work at baptism, even if it meant another one. That’s what he meant by, “I would love to get baptized again.” As those of us at the table reflected on this comment, another friend of mine, Rawee, with a gentle smile asked, “Steve, what if even your wandering days were a part of God’s faithful guidance? What if your turning back to God, in fact, is a sign of your infant baptism—that God was faithful even in your wanderings and brought you back home? Would you still want to be baptized again?”
As I reflect on this conversation, I think about many of us that come to genuinely question the validity of the promise that baptism holds in our lives. I think about a single mom who is anxious and upset about her teenage daughter who recently stopped attending church. I think about a life-long Christian man, a father, and a husband, who feels guilty for secretly going to the casino every weekend. I think about a retired woman in her sixties who is going through depression as she finds herself no longer driven and defined by her work. We all wonder in times of suffering, “is God still with us?”
What my friend Rawee might say about these and many other situations we might be going through is that God is faithful, that he will bring us home. The Christian life is about remembering this baptismal identity over and over again in times of life that seem to tell us we are everything but a child of God. This isn’t easy to do. And that is perhaps exactly why the early Christians created a prayer around baptism called, “The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving,” as a way to remember their baptismal identity. It goes like this:
(Eucharistia – we give thanks) We thank you, O God, for the gift of baptism.
(Anamnesis – we remember) The floods shall not overwhelm us, the deep shall not swallow us up, for Christ has brought us over to the land of promise.
(Epiclesis – send the Holy Spirit to us) May your Spirit separate us from sin and mark us with a faith that can stand the light of day and endure the dark of night. Amen.
The single mom could perhaps hear in this prayer that God hasn’t left her daughter. The life-long Christian man could be reminded in this prayer that God’s grace covers his gambling habit. The retired woman, through this prayer, could perhaps find a sense of deep rest in her soul that she couldn’t find in work. Friends, in our baptisms God has promised us that he will never stop calling us home to Himself and that we are his beloved children.
Remember that even in your wandering God is with you. May we let ourselves be reminded of this truth this week and may we invite others into this holy blessing as well.