Several people have asked me about why I stand near the (uncovered) baptismal font at two points during the worship (have you noticed when?). This is different that “business as usual” here at Bethlehem, and, to let you know a secret, it’s new to me too. I started doing it when I came here, and I thought I’d explain to you why.
Where one stands during the worship service—like many parts of the worship such as what one wears, how the sanctuary is decorated, when to stand and sit—fall into a category of what the 16th Century Lutheran reformers called “adiaphora,” matters that are not essential to faith. This does not imply that such things have no meaning. Actually such seemingly unimportant things can carry quite a bit of meaning. Things that are considered adiaphora are done or not done based on what they communicate.
The reason that I stand near the font at two points during the worship has to do with a matter that is essential to faith: Baptism. Worship, as Lutherans understand it, is all about Word and Sacrament. The Word part is clear enough, the proclamation of the Gospel through the reading of Scriptures and the sermon, as well as things like hymns and prayers. In recent decades, Lutherans have begun to reclaim the focus on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (also called Eucharist or Communion), returning to the ancient practice of celebrating it every Sunday. But we as Lutherans have not only one, but two Sacraments—Baptism is the other. Apart from an occasional infant Baptism, confirmation, or new member reception, however, this essential element of our life of faith doesn’t seem to hold any place in our worship.
In some ways this makes some sense. In the Nicene Creed we “acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Since Baptism is “once and for all,” there is no need to repeat it. And yet, our Baptism does not only reside in the past. Each and every day we can reclaim and renew the baptismal promises that God makes, remembering that we are forgiven sinners, reborn children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Martin Luther said that each morning when we splash water on our faces we can remember that we are Baptized, and we begin anew each day as we seek to live out our Baptism.
There are two points in our Sunday worship where it makes particular sense to remember our Baptism: the time of confession and forgiveness and also the confession of the Creed. Standing by the waters of Baptism during the “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness,” each week I proclaim to you the forgiveness that Christ brings. Of course, this promise is already yours through your Baptism. I don’t know about you, but I certainly need to be reminded of this from time to time! The Apostles Creed which we confess together, has its roots in the ancient baptismal rite. Standing by the waters of Baptism, together we confess again (and again) the faith in which we are baptized.
I leave the font uncovered as a reminder that we always have access to the promises God made to us. Don’t be shy, go ahead and touch the water when you pass by. You can even trace the sign of the cross on your head (or on someone else’s) to remember that you have been forgiven and are a beloved child of God. Perhaps we should say “Take and Splash! Remember that this is new life given to you. Do this in remembrance of your Baptism.”