Since the pandemic I have officiated at three baptisms. These baptisms didn’t look like any other ones that I’ve presided over before. They weren’t held during a regular Sunday morning service. Instead, they were smaller gatherings with mostly just family members present. Two of them were held outside in the Immanuel courtyard and one inside the sanctuary. All of them were with masks and social distancing. What I missed about them, was having the congregation present to be able to offer their promise of support and to welcome the newly baptized as part of our faith community. What I appreciated, however, was the family participation in the service itself.
Because of safety protocols, I invited others to take parts that I normally would have done myself. As I led the spoken liturgy, various family members or the sponsors, poured water into the font and did the washing, the anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, and the lighting of the baptismal candle. After the first baptism it was like a lightbulb went off in my head—an Epiphany. Why had I never invited more participation like this in the past? It seemed so much more meaningful to have those who were closest to the baptized child help lead the service. Indeed, it was a true “liturgy,” which means “work of the people.”
When many of our churches went to online worship last March, we found new ways to participate in our faith at home. We found a space to be our “sanctuary” as we participated in worship. We made our own home altars, lighting candles, preparing the elements for Holy Communion. Our Confirmation youth were encouraged to watch the video lesson each month with their parents and families, having discussions together about their faith. We began these daily TV Prays devotionals for people to pray and reflect on their faith every day.
In these and other ways we were reminded that worship and ministry are not something that a priest or pastor leads or does because they are the hired help. Nor is “going to church” or Christian education confined to a building. From the day of our baptism, we are called to live out our faith in our daily lives and to be witnesses to the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. I’m reminded of the verse from Philippians2:12, where St. Paul encourages the church while he is away from them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” shining as lights in the world (NRSV), or as another translation puts it, “Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God” (The Message). While the pandemic has taken away many things, it has also given us moments of grace, like I witnessed in these baptisms. A sign of encouragement for all of us to be energetic participants in our lives of salvation. Grace notes that may even change for the better how we practice our faith as we go forward.
Let us pray...
Gracious God, thank you for the unexpected gifts of your grace that bring us new insights. In this season of Epiphany keep us open to the new ways you will reveal yourself in our midst. Help us be active participants in our lives of faith, so that we might reflect your love, shining as lights in the world. Amen.