Last week I had the opportunity to baptize Stratton Marks into Christ. She’s one of the 5th graders at our church. Anytime you baptize someone it’s a special event, but this one seemed a little more special. It took on a tone that’s becoming a little more common-place in our church. We’re trying to intentionally add a little more celebration into our baptisms. We encourage people to basically plan a party. Invite friends. Bring gifts. Take pictures. Have cake. Whatever you can do to celebrate the event of someone you love giving their life to Christ.
Stratton invited her grandparents, sisters, cousins, friends, and teachers from her school. They brought cameras and cards. Her parents gave her a Bible. I think her grandmother brought a gift as well. Before the baptism we gathered around the baptistery and gave everyone a chance to say a few words of encouragement and affirmation to Stratton. Then we talked about the meaning of baptism and read some Scriptures together. After the baptism everyone applauded and lined up for hugs. She didn’t get out of the baptistery until everyone had little wet spot on their shoulder. Then there were pictures with the family, more hugs, more tears, a family prayer and just time hanging out together. It was a celebration!
That’s a little different than the baptisms of my youth, including mine. Typically these weren’t planned out but more spur of the moment. They were determined by the force of the preacher’s invitation or the number of verses of “Just As I Am.” Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that those who witnessed your baptism was limited to those already in the audience (for example my parents were 4 hours away when I was baptized and I regret not giving them the opportunity to be there) and the formality of church ruled out any celebration. You usually walked the aisle, whispered to the preacher, he stood up and told the congregation, you were ushered back to change clothes, the curtains parted, you were plunged and the church sang the closing song. This all happened with little, if any, audible or visible reaction from the congregation. There was certainly some response afterwards, but during the service we just sat in silence and observed baptism from the distance of our pews. When I was in high school a few churches started clapping after baptisms, but that was the extent of our emotion.
If I sound cynical, I really don’t mean to. I’m just pointing out that we didn’t celebrate baptisms a lot. I know that people were excited internally but for some reason we suppressed those emotions during the actual baptism. We talked about celebrating. I remember hearing phrases like “this is the best day of your life” or “the angels in heaven are rejoicing today” but we didn’t much act like it.
I think it’s time we start celebrating baptism. Put a little thought into it. Plan it out. Invite friends. Have a party. We baptized an older man at our church earlier this year who had friends drive from more than 100 miles. We had over 50 visitors that morning because he was so excited about his baptism he’d invited everyone he knew to come celebrate with him. It was awesome to see them crowd the stage that morning as they surrounded their friend. It was a celebration! And we need more of them. We need to celebrate baptism. It’s where our sins are washed away. It’s when we receive the gift of the Spirit. It’s how we participate in the promise of resurrection. It’s where we clothe ourselves with Christ. It’s the old life dying and the new life beginning anew. That’s something to celebrate! The angels in heaven rejoice, shouldn’t we?