It’s an awkward question because most of us do remember ours.
At 16 I walked before the First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville, Ill., with my twin brother and a friend to be baptized. We confessed our faith, responded to the pastor and received our baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Being marked into Christ’s death and resurrection was the closing of the circle for one phase of life and the opening of another. With that I would be one called on to participate in the life of the church and of Christ.
While in seminary I worked at a quaint shop called The Episcopal Bookstore.
It provided the ability to dive into a broad spectrum of books for all different kinds of people. But one kind of book that appeared from time to time focused on the remembrance of baptism. Despite being raised by a denomination that baptizes infants, I never considered what it was like for my friends who didn’t remember the day of their baptism. The Episcopal Church is filled by those baptized as infants. The memory of this event is minimized in this tradition, but the remembering of it is central.
As you enter the sanctuary of many liturgically minded churches, you are confronted by the baptismal font. Many people run their hands through the water as they enter and make the sign of the cross. The font is often a sign to people of their baptism but the marking with water is a remembrance of the act and the call that comes with it.
But what if you can remember your baptism?
The churches I’ve witnessed and served in over the years that practice adult baptism assume that if you have a conscious memory of your baptism, that it is enough. The practices to remember it seem to fade away and aren’t as important. It is no surprise that it is often in these places you’ll find the practice of rebaptism, not just for those baptized as infants but also for adults who feel the need to reconfirm their baptism. In many ways, adult baptism provides us with the memory of our baptism but can fail to help us remember our baptism day in and day out.
I’m not advocating infant baptism but asking how we in our churches can bring the memories of our baptisms to our regular worship. And how do we as Mennonites do this in a way that reflects our unique perspective and history of baptism? How does it become possible to talk about the memory of our baptism as the day we received it but also remembering it as a daily call on our lives? How do we see baptism more as God’s committed to being faithful to us more than we are to him? How do we make this call to baptism a daily journey? To die with Christ and to rise with him is contained in that moment, but it also stretches into our work, our play, our family lives.
In his book Being Christian, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, focuses on baptism in the first chapter. While reading the chapter, I noticed how little Williams said about the means by which we are baptized or even our memory of it. Reading the chapter you would have almost no clue that for a time he was the spiritual leader for a global body that baptizes infants. Instead, he focuses on what baptism means for us as we belong to Christ, what opens to us through Christ as we are called to be prophets, priests and kings, and the narrative we enter.
In a line that prods me, he asks: “Where might you expect to find the baptized
One answer is, In the neighborhood of chaos. It means you might expect to find Christian people near those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured and needy. Christians will be found in the neighborhood of Jesus, but Jesus is found in the neighborhood of human confusion and suffering, defenselessly among those in need. If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led toward the chaos and the neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny.” Williams’ vision of baptism is not a static event but a dynamic moment that teaches us about where and how these baptized bodies should be in and for the world. For us, baptism is a marking we receive once in our lives, but it is the door that opens us to our daily participation with Christ.
As people centered around the practice of baptism, may we find ways to ask about each other’s baptism in recognition of that day we received it. But also with an eye toward how our baptized lives and bodies are participating in the death and resurrection of the one we join that day. This would mean seeing baptism as something we already fully received as well as something that will one day be fully realized for us.
The question looms: What would it look for us to remember our baptisms?
Matthew Shedden is associate pastor at Lebanon (Ore.) Mennonite Church, Praxis editor at The Other Journal and blogs at mshedden.com.