Saturday, May 17, 2014

A 50-Year Memory

I was coerced. Well, not really. Just kind of pushed to make a decision that I wasn't willing to admit I was ready to make.

One Sunday morning my friend came back to the pew before church and announced to me that he had told the pastor I was ready to be baptized... and the pastor was going to give the invitation at the end of the service that morning.

But.... but....

No "but"s about it. It was now or else maybe never. I thought about it the whole service. I am sure I never heard a word of the sermon or felt the music as I normally did.

At the end of the service, less than an hour away, I was expected to raise my hand and go forward, indicating my intention to become a baptized Christian.

I think it took until the third verse of the hymn as my friend kept poking me and shaking his head- pointing toward the front. Finally, as I saw the pastor looking in my direction I raised my hand and was called to the front.

A few weeks later, on Sunday evening, May 17, 1964 I entered the water of the fount behind the pulpit along with several others, including my best friend's brother. I don't remember anything about the service, what questions I might have been asked, how I responded. I remember the pastor's hands on my head and back as he leaned me back and into the water.

I was at the end of my sophomore year of high school. I had made my Bar Mitzvah less than three years earlier, my Mom had died a little more than six months after that, my Dad had been in a VA hospital for nearly a year and would be gone by the end of the year. Here I was now officially a Christian, a member of the Body of Christ. It would be only a little more than 10 years after that day when I would be ordained a minister of the Moravian Church. (That anniversary will be in September!)

I left the Baptist church and its insistence on "believers' baptism" behind many years ago. I have a more "high church" understanding of sacraments today. Baptism is at the top of the list. I have written here before of the wondrous love and joy I feel whenever I have been blessed to be part of a baptism. I get the chills of the Spirit running up my spine and through my soul when I think of the words from our liturgy of baptism, words of commissioning:

Therefore live. Yet not you but Christ live in you. And the life you live, live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you.

Then the deeply moving words of the priestly benediction from Leviticus:
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious onto you
The Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Such an act of indescribable grace. The little baby did nothing to earn or deserve such a blessing. The sacrament is freely given- instituted by God in Christ because we can never be good enough or do enough to deserve it.

The almost 16-year old in the baptismal of Walnut St. Baptist Church, supposedly old enough to make the decision for himself, was nowhere near ready for that grace. The nearly 66-year old today isn't either.

That's why it's grace.

That Sunday 50 years ago still stands large in my life. Even with the change and (I believe) growth in my theological and spiritual understanding, it is all built on that day. Going into that water- or bringing your child to be graced- is to go into a flow of life. It has been the source of my strength, even when I was ignoring it. It was the reminder, always present, that my sins, and my Sin, are forever forgiven.

Praise be to God who gives us the victory!

There is a river and it flows from deep within
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin
O come to this water there is a vast supply
There is a river that never shall run dry.

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