Do you remember your baptism? I do.
July 22, 1984 – around 11:00 pm.
I was at church camp, at Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of High School, and my last year as a camper.
Earlier in the evening, I accepted Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, and was ready to be baptized.
After a night-time walk through the woods, the entire camp gathered by a mountain stream. I stepped into the cold water, with a young pastor named Alex. Alex asked me, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the only son of God. Do you accept him as Lord and Savior?” As I said “Yes!,” Alex pushed me back into the water, baptizing me in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
I remember a lot of the details of that night. The cold water. My friends, standing by the river. A hundred, or so, flashlights shining on the water. More than anything, I remember thinking, “This changes everything.”
I didn’t make the decision to be baptized lightly. No one pressured me. It was entirely my decision. In fact, I had wrestled with the decision for at least a year. I wanted to believe. I wanted to be a Christian. I wanted to live like a Christian. I wanted to be baptized. But, before I could, I had to work through my feelings and thoughts of uncertainty. When I made the decision, I wanted to be sure.
And, I was. I can’t say, for certain, how or why I was sure. But, I was.
I feel fortunate to have such strong memories of my baptism. But, when I ask, “Do you remember your baptism?” and say, “I do,” I’m not just talking about the event itself. Whether, or not, we can recall the details of how or when we were baptized, baptism is more than a moment.
In many traditions, baptism is considered a sacrament. The traditional definition of a sacrament, from St. Augustine, is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” The “outward and visible” sign of baptism is water, of course. An “inward and spiritual grace,” is also at work.
Baptism is more than a religious ceremony. Baptism is spiritual change. Baptism is transformation. Baptism is new life. Baptism is an altered identity. Baptism is a new affiliation. Baptism is a new way of being and living.
I think of baptism this way… When I was born, I was born into a physical body – male, caucasian, flat-footed, brown-haired and blue-eyed. I was born into a particular family called “Rains,” with a certain history, values, rules, and expectations. I was born into particular culture – in my case, “Southern,” where I learned to say, “y’all.” And, by birth, I became a legal citizen of the United States of America, and became subject to its particular laws and obligations.
But, when I was baptized, I was spiritually ‘born again.” I became a member of a different family (God’s), and I became part of a different culture (the Church), and I became a citizen of a different kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven). And, my baptismal identity is my primary identity. My baptismal allegiance is my primary allegiance.
Remembering your baptism isn’t about remembering the event. Remembering your baptism is remembering who you are as a member of God’s family, as a member of the Church, and as a citizen of God’s kingdom. Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been spiritually changed. Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been called to be like Jesus. Remembering your baptism ought to affect the way you treat people, the way you conduct business, the way you vote, the way you shop, the way you give, and the values you aspire to live by. Remembering you baptism ought to affect EVERYTHING!
Pope Francis says, “We are called to live our baptism every day, as new creatures, clothed in Christ.”
Do you remember your baptism?