Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Theology Thursday: Guest Column - Baptismal Death

I knew Kris Capel in seminary twelve years ago. We were both students then. Now, I'm no longer a pastor; she's a big-shot leader in a church in Eagan, Minnesota. She's also a great writer and a hell of a nice person. (Hmm, can you say that about clergy?)

You are actually dead. 

One of the greatest privileges I have in life is celebrating the gift of baptism.  At the church where I work, whenever we baptize someone, we go to the house of the about-to-be-baptized to get to know the family and to talk about the gift of the divine bath.

Last week, I had the best baptism visit of my life.  After talking with the couple for a short time, it became clear to me that neither one of them had been raised in the church.  The Spirit was simply nudging them to have their baby baptized.  They ended up at my church through the recommendation of a family member.  After the idle chat that takes place when you first get to know someone, I asked them, "So what does baptism mean to you?  Why are you feeling the nudge to have your baby baptized?"  

The father of the baby gave me the most honest answer I've ever heard.  He said, with a question mark in his voice, "Because if we don't, and he dies, then he'll be in pergatory forever."  Of course, my first reaction was to laugh - thinking he was joking....(which I didn't, be proud of me!).  But my second reaction was to apologize.  So I apologized to him that he feels that way.  I apologized for the bullying the church has done through its rhetoric and misguided theology over the years - and we started to reframe the sacrament in terms that made sense to him.

The first thing I told him is that Baptism is all about love.  On the day that sweet-cheeked little baby is baptized, God will give him a hug and God will never let go - in life or in death.  Furthermore, his family will expand to include all of these people who will love him, pray for him, cheer him on in every little step of his life.  Also - he will receive the sign of the cross on his forehead.  Of course, that sign is a watermark which you can't see.  But you can never wash it off either.  Jesus literally makes His mark on us in our baptisms and we carry that with us for the rest of our lives.

The coolest part of the conversation was when we talked about where the water comes in.  We talked about how when Jesus was baptized, he probably went under water in the muddy Jordan- submerging his whole body and submitting his life to his Father's will.  So when we baptize, even though we only "splash" water in our tradition - in God's eyes we are actually going under the water and dying.  We go under - and all of that stuff in us that is no good - anything that is not "of God" - actually dies.  We die to ourselves and our own impulses and tendencies.  But when we come up from the water, we rise, dripping wet with God's amazing love and grace.  We die with Jesus and we rise with Jesus.  And rising means that we have every reason to live with hope.

After we talked about the dying and rising part - the dad looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I have goosebumps right now."  And then he said, "So you're saying that God is actually THERE when my baby is baptized?"  At this point, I was tearing up.  I said, "Yes - and every day of his life - God is actually THERE."

We wrapped up the conversation by talking about the candle that we all receive in our baptism.  The candle is a symbol of Jesus shining his light through us.  I'll bet you a lot of money that little baby is already shining God's light!  But now, it's official - God's light is ALIVE, flickering, flaming, loving and living.

I have to say, that baptism visit made a believer out of me.....again.  If I ever had any doubts that God shows up everywhere and all of the time - those doubts were buried deep that day.

So if you ever doubt the promise of your baptism - just remember that you are actually dead.  Which, unbelievably, is GOOD news. Because being dead in baptism, means that God is ALIVE in you!  And - if you needed proof that all of this is true - read it and weep:

Romans 6:3-4
Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Kris Capel is the Lead Pastor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minesota. She received her B.A. in Music and Religion from Wartburg College and her MDiv from Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Pastor Kris loves working with people of all ages. She is married to Dan Coyle and has two daughters, Annika and Amelia. In her spare time, you can find her hiking, biking and swimming. Pastor Capel is serving at worship and preaching frequently. Her Blog can be found at

1 comment:

Kari said...

Beautiful experience and story. Love the description of baptism--might have to steal that...