We had a baptism yesterday; my first at St. John’s.
Now, I have been talking excitedly about this particular baptism for roughly 6 weeks. Partially because I adore baptisms in general (babies! water! Baptismal covenant!) and also because of who it was.
Kang has been a parishioner here for several years. He lives in one of the group homes in town, and makes his way here each Sunday. He is a dedicated participant in the liturgy and the hymns, and goes to Sunday school. One of my first impressions of St. John’s was hearing Kang’s voice ring out a beat behind the congregation’s during the prayers, and the congregation calmly waiting for him before starting each new line. Each time I hear his voice, I think, “Ah! This is surely the gate to the kingdom.”
At the end of the summer, Kang’s family visited, and his sister told me that he had never been baptized, but wanted to be. Would I be willing? “YES THAT WOULD BE GREAT CAN I PLEASE” I may have shouted at her. (I told you–I was excited.) So we planned for All Saints Day.
On Sunday, Kang’s family arrived again, and brought him early to the church. His Sunday school teachers came to sponsor him, and we walked him through what would happen in the liturgy–where he would stand, what he would say, where we would be in the prayer book. “And then, I will pour water on your head, and put some oil on your forehead, and say some words,” I said. “Yes, ok, thank you!” he responded. This is Kang’s general response to everything. Baptism is an overwhelming experience for anyone; there are a lot of sensory things happening, to say nothing of the spiritual stuff. I didn’t want him to be taken by surprise.
During the liturgy, after the sermon, I asked for the candidate and the sponsors to come forward, and up they came. Kang did perfectly during the questions and answers; he renounced Satan and the forces which rebel against God and turned to Jesus and accepted him as his Savior with aplomb.
And then, we paused a half-second for the lay reader to step forward to read the Prayers for the Candidate, like in rehearsal. But unexpectedly, Kang himself stepped forward, held up his bulletin, and in a loud voice, read “Deliver him, O Lord, from the ways of sin and death!”
The congregation of St. John’s, never ones to be flapped, responded immediately, “Lord, hear our prayer!” Kang continued, “Open his eyes to your grace and truth!” “Lord, hear our prayer!” And so on. Kang, for the first time, reading aloud in church, unprompted, the prayers for himself.
His family was taken aback. I was taken aback. His teachers were taken aback. Kang alone seemed eternally unperturbed. His sister asked me later if I had told him to do that–“No,” I said, “That was the Holy Spirit for sure.”
At the baptism, as I poured water over his head, Kang emphatically responded to each line.
“Kang, I baptize you in the name of the Father”
“YES THANK YOU”
“..and of the Son…”
“YES THANK YOU”
“..and of the Holy Spirit.”
“YES THANK YOU”
By the end, not a few of us were wiping away tears.
I’ve said before that in baptisms, I expect to see babies cry. Not for any masochistic reasons, but because baptism is an overwhelming thing. It is a numinous experience that seems to require some loud response from us–as Annie Dilliard once wrote, if we really knew what we were about in church, we would strap ourselves onto the pews with safety belts, and show up in crash helmets. How can it be, then, that we want little children to sleep through this most life-changing of experiences?
Perhaps the best response to the action of God in our lives is just what Kang showed us yesterday–to yell a bit, and to pray for this world God loves.
May you have many occasions for yelling and praying.