A man walks into the Rectors office and asks the priest: “Excuse me, but this is my dog, and I would like to get the dog baptized. Will you baptize my dog”? The Rector addresses the man: “Sir we appreciate people’s pets as a special part of their household, but we do not baptize animals. We say a special blessing for them, and we have a special blessing service for our pets on St. Francis Day”. The man hesitates and then says: “Well I guess I will have to go across the street to the Presbyterian Church and give them this check for $5,000 dollars and ask the pastor to baptize my dog”. The priest reacts quickly: “Hold on a minute. I did not know it was an Anglican dog”.
Today is Christmas Eve, and as we make ready for the celebration of the coming of the Christ child, we want to take time to remember what that means for us. God sent his only son into the world to live among us, to identify with our world as a human being, to know the joys, hurts and full gamut of the things we encounter in our humanity daily. At Christmas, we remember Easter, and at Easter we remember Christmas. He came, he lived among us, he died and has risen, and He will come again.
This morning we will be baptizing little River Andrew, and what a blessing he will have throughout his life knowing that he was baptized at the same date that Jesus was coming into the world. The responsibility of his parents, sponsors and the church are to assist River in his understanding of what baptism means, and to encourage him to live into his baptismal covenant, to identify with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, to be able to point back to his Christening by the Holy Spirit as a beginning of living into the life that Jesus is calling him into.
Scripture teaches us that there is one baptism, not two or three or more. The Apostle Paul lays this out quite clearly. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6) In Scripture and in Anglican tradition, the Episcopal Church accepts all Christian baptisms, regardless of denomination, if you have been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
In the history of the church there is a plethora of differences in the way people have been baptized. John the Baptist baptized people in the flowing waters of the Jordan River. In the first house churches mentioned in various letters of the New Testament, archeologist have found floor plans of c home churches that include a place for baptisms, a water pool, and a place for worship services. The homes of some of the wealthier Christians became a center of worship and activity for the church community.
In these early churches there are records that indicate that when people were baptized they were offered “milk and honey” at the communion circle, along with bread and wine. And, since there were people added quite often to these early churches, there must have been milk and honey at the communion rails, all the time; Milk and honey are symbolic of the Promise Land, the land of Canaan. The milk and honey, along with bread and wine are symbolic of the riches and bounty of the church, the blessings of God, and a taste of heaven to come.
There has been debate all though history on the correct methods of baptism. I know there are Episcopal Churches, however rare, that include milk and honey as a part of their communion circle. I know of a couple churches in Florida that do this. I don’t think we will be implementing it here. There are differences in communion practices and there are also differences in the methods of baptism. In the Episcopal Church the standard practice, or I should say the most common practice, is to pour water on the heads of those being baptized. I pour three times, in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Some People pour once. Some people sprinkle. And, some people prefer full immersion.
In seminary, there are Anglican scholars that believe that the proper way of baptism is full immersion. There are some that teach that baptism should be at a place of running water, a river, a creek or a spring. I know there is an ELCA Lutheran Church in downtown Manhattan in NYC, a very affluent with modern architecture that has a font that is about 10 feet in length. This font has a stream of recycled water that flows from a stream to a pool. All the baptisms are done here from the stream of running water. There is at least one Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan that has a pool for full immersion baptism.
I grew up in the Assembly of God Church, a classical and largest Pentecostal denomination that came out of the early 1900’s Pentecostal Movement. As a child, I remember church baptisms at rivers, lakes, ponds and even a swimming pool. The largest church that I spent most of my young life in was a church in Clifton, Colorado, a suburb of Grand Junction, Colorado. This church had a sanctuary that could seat @ 300 people comfortably. It was designed in a way that from the back of the church there was a slightly graduated angle downward, all the way to the altar, and the altar was elevated.
At the center of the front of the sanctuary there was a baptismal water pool with a front of clear glass that you could see through. On each side of the pool there were doors and stair steps down into the tank, which was probably about four feet deep. On one side females would enter and come back and change into dry clothes in a changing room, and on the other side males would do the same thing. One of my fondest memories was watching one of my friends being baptized on a certain Sunday with several other boys and girls, probably around 10 to 12 years old. This is one of the funniest stories of my early church experience.
My friend came down the stairs to be baptized, and after he was baptized he walked up the wrong way to the stairs into the girls dressing room. When he entered the dressing room, we heard shouts and screams. Realizing what he had done, he walked back down the stairs and began to swim under water to get to the other side of the pool. Somehow, he turned the wrong way and swam right up to the front of the glass looking out. He looked like a blow fish with his cheeks all out, and his arms waving like fins. I’m sure this was an embarrassing day for him, but it was an enjoyable day for me and all the other children to watch this. I don’t remember much more about that day, but the picture of the boy with puffy lips and a face against the glass looking out at us, I will never forget.
In the Episcopal Church, there is only one baptism, and we are instructed to grow into that baptism. I know this is Christmas Eve, but being baptized into the death and life of Jesus Christ, is an introduction to the family of God, and an introduction to Jesus as our big brother, born in a manger on Christmas morn.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen