By what you might consider a blog-happy coincidence, three things have lined up in the past several days. First: this past weekend, Pastor Aaron did something new for our congregation by bringing the baptismal service indoors. That would already have been a good call pragmatically. Imagine an outdoor baptismal service in weather like we’ve been having; sooner or later, someone from the audience would probably have jumped into the baptistery just to cool off. But more than that, when the ritual was joined to the worship of the entire congregation, a joyous sense of celebration ensued as people rose up out of the water, a celebration that somehow felt different from when it was mostly family and friends in attendance.
Second: on Monday, my colleague Jim Furrow and I began teaching our two-week intensive course on Narrative and Family Life, which considers the role of both story and ritual in the life of families and the church.
Third: yesterday, on his Storied Theology blog, Daniel Kirk put up a thought-provoking post on ritual, wondering whether we have so compartmentalized our church practices that they fail to lend any meaning to our lives the other six days of the week.
It’s an important question. And a big one.
Let’s at least begin with this: if the Lord’s Supper is the ritual through which we remember the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, then baptism is the ritual through which we become identified with him in the movement from death to new life:
We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:2-5, NIV)
For congregations like ours which practice believer’s baptism, the public ritual is mostly understood as an individual profession of faith, a sign of one’s commitment and devotion. But the shift to include baptism as part of the regularly scheduled worship sent a subtle but effective message: this is for all of us; this is cause for communal celebration.
But now to Daniel Kirk’s question: what next? Once we have celebrated together the new life that is ours through union with Christ in his death and resurrection, what happens when we walk out of the sanctuary?
Or to put the question differently: how will we be the kind of community that encourages one another to cling to that resurrection identity the rest of the week?
Another big question, one that begs a lifetime of answers.
Can I make one small suggestion? Let’s begin by changing our language. Someone may ask what happened at church this past weekend. Our knee-jerk response might be, “Oh, it was wonderful. My niece got baptized.” If we didn’t know anyone on the platform personally, we might say, “A bunch of people got baptized, and there was music and singing, and Pastor Aaron spoke for a little bit about the meaning of baptism.” That’s all well and good, as far as it goes.
But what if instead we answered, “We celebrated baptism together as a church”? Think what a different message that would send. It might sound a little awkward, but that’s good–because it might cause the other person to be curious about what you meant.
And then, you could tell them.