Isn’t Chloe adorable? Just like all the infants and little children who get baptized. What a remarkable sacrament baptism is: little innocent children, eager young people, more introspective adults, all come to the font to be marked for life.
I will never forget Keith, Maura, Claire and Emily – a father with his teen and pre-teen daughters all kneeling on these steps. Todd Webster was, I believe, my first baptism here. And he was NO INFANT! It was very hard to carry him down the aisle! I remember a little girl who was maybe two or three who wanted no part of the baptism. She was writhing around and I think I maybe got one of the three targeted crosses on her forehead. Her parents were worried that it wasn’t an official baptism. All of these beloved children are marked for life.
Marked for life can mean several things. They are indelibly marked with the sign of the cross on their forehead. It can’t be wiped off!
The culprit will remain nameless, but if you go into the Jim Room and pull down the screen there is a short – maybe and inch and a half – black mark on it. The person didn’t realize the screen was down, thought he was writing on the white board – and now you have an indelible mark on the screen. Doesn’t stop the screen from doing what a screen does…but every time the screen is pulled down, there is a remembrance of the fateful day. Can’t wash it off!
You and I may not see the mark, but the refiner’s fire of mercy, and justice, of grace and hope that shines from the throne of grace – illumines that mark, just like the black light at a nightclub shows forth the stamp – you can come and go as you please. Of course the Kingdom of God is not a club, it is a party that is open to all, and metaphors and illustrations fall short – but I hope you get the idea. You can’t see it, but you know it’s there. You can deny it, but too bad.
Baptism is a mark that does separate us uniquely. Christians disagree about the ultimate meaning of the separation. But baptism means that you are marked for a life of following Christ, of journeying along with a people who place their hope in a God of love, forgiveness, and justice. At an infant baptism, the parents and sponsors, and you all too – take vows – a covenant promise as solemn as a wedding vow:
- “Relying on God’s grace, do you promise to live the Christian faith, and to teach that faith to your child?”
- “Do you promise, through prayer and example, to support and encourage him/her to be a faithful Christian?”
- “Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture the person by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging her to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?”
These are covenantal vows: we are marked to walk the path of Christ in community. And in my mind that is a marvelous way to walk through life, as part of a community who seeks to do as Jesus did, and love as Jesus loved, and include as Jesus included, and forgive as Jesus forgave, to serve others as Jesus served others, to engage the world as Jesus engaged the world, to be in relationship with God the way that Jesus was in relationship with God his father, his daddy.
And as I see it, being part of the marked for life community of Christ is not an private club of separation, or a club of domination (as we beat our status over the head of others) but a positive way of inclusion. As a Christian I am saying that I view the world, and history, my own life, and all created matter through a lens of trust that life is worth living, that justice is worth pursuing because that is who God is – creative, redeeming, liberating, restoring, loving, forgiving, and I am to yearn for liberation and reconciliation just like God does. Jesus shows that to me.
We are marked for life, for love – called to be a people who enjoy living.
There is another line in the baptismal liturgy that I have always been taken by: “In baptism, God claims us, and seals 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.” That is quite a claim. When you are marked for life, you no longer have to worry about sin and death. You are now part of a community that believes, trusts, imagines, hopes that death is not the end and no matter what you do, it isn’t going to separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord (thank you, St. Paul). Isn’t that amazing to know that your worst act ever isn’t a blip on the divine screen and if God forgives, why don’t you forgive yourself?
And we read that we are to remember our own baptism. Well, for many of us that is nearly impossible because we were baptized as infants. My parents tell me that I screamed really loud at my baptism… I am proud of that memory!
Every time we baptize we bring to the present the reality of a past event – Jesus rising from the river and the dove descending – the same thing happening to us whether we dip, dunk, swab, sprinkle. We claim a present reality, a present identity – baptism is for us here and now – claiming and reclaiming us as a people alive – marked for life, lively life, joyful life, hopeful life, inquisitive life. And when the heavens open up and the dove descends and Jesus hears the voice: “You are my beloved child” – those words are for you and for me. Really pay attention and lean close and see if you can hear those words whispered over everyone who comes forward to be marked for life. Think of all that is happening at a baptism.
Now, you may be wondering: “John, thanks for a re-minder about baptism, but what does this have to do with Exodus text and the Passover?”
Frankly, Passover has just about everything to do with baptism (and the Lord’s Supper too, of course). Passover is sacramental – and all sacraments share the same core – God revealing God self in community – a liturgical act which signifies and identifies God’s call on your lives.
Whoever swabbed the lintels of the doorway with the blood of the lamb were marked for life – saved from death, and deadly oppression of Egyptian slavery, and Egyptian gods and everything that slavery and idolatry and death represent – those who want to claim YHWH are marked, called out.
But with the mark comes the call: Be the people who you claim to be… talk the talk and walk the walk. Get out of Egypt and whatever context of slavery you are in. Get away from Ol’ Pharaoh – don’t allow yourselves to remain in systems of domination – don’t be victims, don’t be powerless, don’t make excuses – move into the wilderness of hope. Be a people, a community – damn it, be different. Show the world what it means to be a beloved community. That is what Passover is about.
Just like baptism, when Jews celebrate the Passover they are not just remembering a past event – they make present, they make real the promises all over again – they are reminded that no matter their status (rich or poor, slave or free), they are wanderers in a foreign land – they eat in a hurry the original fast food and are ready to move, dressed and ready to go – active in life, present and real. Faith is not sedentary but mobile. Faith is not playing it safe but scorning the consequences. Faith is discovered on the journey, faith is found in locomotion not on location! Get up and go!
The Jews know that the journey will lead them through the desert of discontent, and yet they will travel on. They know that Ol’ Pharaoh won’t give up and he’ll come after them, but every year the people will remember and be reminded of who they are and whose they are – a beloved community in transit.
In baptism you and I as followers of Jesus Christ are given the same challenge that the Jews are given: what kind of people are you going to be? How will people know you are different? What kind of God do you serve? How are you going to bear your mark?
The Passover becomes the liturgy for identity and life. So too the liturgy of baptism – the way we remember the act, the way we perform it – is our guide to living.
Each day, make the mark of the cross on your forehead and claim again the baptism promise and then go to work or school – get that diagnosis, sit with the sick, love the lost and lonely, welcome the stranger, forgive all – step off into the wilderness and live lightly and loosely.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”
Isn’t it wonderful that this day becomes a festival of celebration, so too baptism, so too everyday when one is marked for life. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
Thanks be to God. Amen.