She screamed the first six months of her life any time she touched the water. This wasn’t a little protest. She screamed at the top of her lungs. She screamed that baby cry that sounds so desperate. You would think we were giving her a shot every time we tried to bathe her.
I thought it was because in the haze of our new life with four kids, struggling with breastfeeding, a new school year starting for our olders and the entry into preschool for our son, we didn’t bathe her much those first months. It was the Fall, she didn’t get that dirty. A little wipe with a washcloth did the trick to keep her clean.
Now babies always pitch a fit when they are newborns in water, but this girl, she didn’t stop pitching a fit after the first month or the second month or the third, four or fifth month. I blamed it on me and my husband for not bathing her enough those first few weeks to get her use to the water. Truth is, I think she just didn’t like water until she could sit up and splash in it. And that didn’t happen until she was six months old.
She seems to like the water now. She splashes away in it and smiles most of the time. But she still occasionally decides water is not for her. Then it is a quick bath amidst tears and protest. She’s 10 months old. It’s the reason we waited so long to have her baptized. I didn’t want her screaming bloody murder up there on a Sunday morning.
Even though she likes the water now, she still looked at our Pastor with the most confused look on her face. Each time he poured water on her head she looked at him with an expression that seemed to say, “What in the world do you think you are doing?! Why are you getting me all wet?!”
We all thought it was pretty funny, the faces she was giving him. My fourth born, she can give you the best “What is WRONG with you?!?” face. We all laughed. Our Pastor, he kept dumping. Our girl, she just looked bewildered. She had no idea what was going on.
I didn’t start out as a fan of infant baptism. I was raised as a good ol’ Baptist. I was nine when I answered that alter call and publicly accepted Jesus Christ into my heart. With that public profession of faith came the obvious next step of baptism.
And I remember my baptism. I remember putting on that white gown, white symbolizing the way we have been made clean and pure by the blood of Jesus. I remember walking down the steps into that big tank in the front of the church, a glass wall at the front so you could see everything happening under the water. I remember how I was suppose to cross my hands over my chest and give in to the pastor dipping me back into the water… all the way under. And I remember coming up dripping wet and worrying a bit about how my hair looked. I was nine afterall and these things had started to matter. Good thing I was too young to wear make up.
My daughter, she won’t remember her baptism, except through pictures and video… I made sure to have family and friends take lots of those. She was dressed in white and doused with water completely unaware of what was going on.
I know there are many who do not understand why we practice infant baptism. Some may feel sad for her, that she won’t have the memory of her baptism like I do. And truth be told, it took me a while to come around to embracing infant baptism.
I grew up understanding baptism as an outward profession of faith. It was a sign of our commitment to Christ and His cleansing work in our life that occurred when we professed faith in Jesus. I actually wanted to be baptized earlier, when I was 7, but my parents decided I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on, so I had to wait. At 9, I seemed old enough to be serious about the commitment and profession of faith I was making publicly through baptism.
So the whole concept of infant baptism was way foreign to me. But feeling a call to pastoral ministry, I pursued ordination as a Presbyterian (USA) Minister and that meant I had to get on board with the whole infant baptism thing, or I would have to seriously reconsider whether I was being called to pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church USA. This was no small thing I had to wade through here. Could I, with integrity, baptize infants?
So I studied and I had conversation after conversation in seminary on the subject, and not only did I get onboard, I now see it as a beautiful sign and seal of the profound reality of Christ’s claim upon us. You see, for Presbyterians and others in the Reformed Tradition, baptism is not about what I do, an act of obedience that signifies my commitment to Christ, but about what God does, a sign and seal of God’s commitment to and claim on me. In the Reformed understanding, baptism is placed in the context of God’s covenant promises of grace to believers and their children. It is understood as the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament covenant sign of circumcision, which was practiced on infants, and expressed their incorporation into Israel as the covenant community of God’s people. We understand baptism now as the outward visible sign of the new covenant we have in Jesus Christ and incorporation into the family of God, His Church.
My Joy Baby, she doesn’t need to understand what is happening in her baptism! I believe baptism is the sign of God’s gracious promise to us, not us to Him! In baptism God says to us: You are loved. You are mine. I claim you as my own beloved child, washed, made new, and made one with Jesus Christ.
Profession of faith will come. We as the community of faith promise to raise this child being baptized in the faith, both parents and all those witnessing the baptism in the community of the local congregation. One day, my daughter will, I pray, stand before this same congregation and confirm the truth that was spoken over her so many years before, that yes, she is God’s child and yes, she believes God loves her and she loves God. But God’s claim comes first in the waters of baptism, before she ever professes faith in God. God, He pursues us first! God is always the initiator in this human-divine relationship of love and faith.
As our Pastor poured water over our Sweet Joy Baby’s head (and he poured!) it was a visible sign and seal of God’s love being poured out on her when she was completely unaware of this God whose love so fully embraces and envelopes her every breath.
Our Joy Baby, she is claimed by God and His love fully and completely, before she ever raises a word in praise to Him. Before she can claim faith in Jesus, we believe that Jesus has claimed her as His own beloved child. As a daughter of the faith, growing up in a Christian family within a community of faith, we believe that she participates in the promises of the covenant God has made with us as His people.
“For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” Acts 2:39
She may not have the vivid memory I do of her baptism, of water being poured out on her, but to me, I think it is profound the memory she will always have. Even when she can’t remember it, even when she was unaware of what was happening, God claimed her as His own! This is truth I will always tell her, that I will point her to every time she remembers her baptism that she was too young to remember, that she is claimed by God. If she every doubts it, that she God’s child, I’ll tell her to just remember her baptism.
The truth I believe is that before she could even speak, God loved her with an everlasting, all encompassing love. God, He poured out His blessing upon her while she was completely unaware and before she did anything for God.
While she looked at our Pastor with the look “What in the world are you doing?!?”, God looked at her and said, “You are mine.”
And so our Pastor led us in these beautiful words before our Joy Baby’s baptism:
“In baptism God claims us, and puts a sign on us to show that we belong to God. God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of establishing His Kingdom of love, peace, and justice. Let us remember and rejoice in our own baptism, as we celebrate this sacrament.”
Friends, remember your baptism, whether you were held in the arms of your pastor or your feet were planted solidly on the ground and you remember water being poured over you. Remember your baptism and remember God has looked at you and said, “You are mine.” Even when you are completely unaware, you are forever and always loved and claimed by God.