Every baptism service we have at Renovatus is extraordinary. We’ve baptized in a borrowed Baptist church, a hundred year-old elementary school auditorium, a shopping mall headed into foreclosure, the Atlantic, and now years later in a traditional sanctuary of our very own.
Let me be clear: the scenery isn’t what makes it extraordinary. The baptismal we most commonly use is a glorified bathtub wrapped in wood and on casters! The time slot isn’t what does it-we’ve baptized on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. (Though last year we baptized by candlelight at Midnight on Easter and that actually was a pretty memorable timeslot!)
Pastor Jonathan baptized me at our first baptismal service over five years ago. Since then, each time I help baptismal candidates line up with their towels and their nervousness to wade in deeper with the Lord, my heart races a bit. I smile really big as they are brought before the congregation. I hold back the tears as they share a bit of their story with us, and then I cheer like no one’s business when they come up out of the water and hug their pastor.
The old being put to death and the new coming to life in such a clear, demonstrative way is nothing less than remarkable. The bodies are as unique as the stories embedded in them—diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status. But the baptismal water is no respecter of persons; it is the great equalizer. Neither male nor female, slave nor free, rich nor poor—the old markers and old stories are now submerged into one story: the story of death and resurrection.
While we encourage people to sign up in advance and to bring friends and family to witness this mysterious sacrament, we also leave room for the Spirit to move in real time during service. If someone wants to be baptized on the spot, we are always ready & willing! Much like the eunuch in Acts 8 who said to Phillip, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” In other words, why not here? Why not now?
I certainly don’t want a lack of preparation on our part to hinder anyone from being baptized! That’s why we stock up each time on t-shirts and shorts and flip flops and underwear and ponytail holders and towels a plenty. (It’s a really awkward trip to Target, let me tell you!)
A missionary from our church who works in a part of the world that is closed to the gospel just shared with us about a friend of hers becoming a believer and the subsequent baptism in the bathtub that came with it. How beautiful is that?
Baptism is brave and weird and awkward and messy and breathtakingly beautiful.
It is the mystery of death and life summed up in single moment that changes everything.
From my vantage point, I can account for all the logistical elements that go into a baptismal service. There is nothing mystical about the mechanics of filling the pool or buying the shorts or folding the towels. But what I can’t see, what I cannot account for, is the enchantment of deeper and holier things that take place in the water. I cannot account for the sense of awe that lingers long after the moment is passed.
What I can testify to is the baptism by-proxy into wonderment I receive time and time again.