I walked to the front of the church, looked at the church-issued white bowl that my pastor had dipped in the baptismal font, and took it in my hands. The water was cold, and the excess dripped down my hand and onto my cuff. I reversed to stand behind the congregation and waited.
In the sermon, our pastor had told us that “I am baptized” was a reminder that Martin Luther often wrote when the fear of his work got overwhelming. I don’t think about my baptism often, but when the lectionary focused on Jesus’ baptism during early January, I realized that though I know the promises of my baptism, I often fear feeling I don’t belong, even to Jesus.
The congregation started to rise—just a few at first. No one really knew how people would respond to this new idea: a reminder of our baptism that involved standing up, breaching the intimacy of touch, and having water placed on our foreheads. How uncomfortable would people be even with the intentional framing in the sermon? This moment to remember our baptisms and to tangibly feel that we need not fear was something we had never done before.
The first person walked toward me. I knew his name and his story. He is a deacon who came to this church a few years back after having been away from a church home. He joined because his children found a place in Cadets and the community, and they brought their parents along. I dipped my fingers into the bowl, reached out, and placed the sign of the cross on his forehead saying, “You belong, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ.” Behind him was his son, who was baptized when the family joined the church. I remembered the wonderful testimony of this child who claimed Christ as his own at his baptism, and I remembered the promises we made on that day. I leaned down, traced the cross on his forehead, and said, “You belong, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ.”
Person after person came. Moms and dads led young children baptized not that long ago: “You belong, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ.” A mom and her towering teenage boys all received the blessing: “You belong, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ.” Grandpas and grandmas leading grandchildren, old, young, married, single, healthy, frail: I looked each one in the eyes and spoke the words “You belong, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ.” As I struggled to hold back tears, I saw I was not alone.
I turned to the elder standing nearest me. She dipped her fingers into her bowl, raised them to my forehead, and marked me with the sign of the cross. The water was cold, but the pressure of her finger warm on my forehead. As she looked me in the eyes, I was told that I belong, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ. In that moment I no longer only knew it. I felt it. I felt it in the cold water dripping down my arm, in the contact between my fingers and the skin of others as I traced the cross, in the tightness in my throat, the tears, the smiles, and the joy with which I was able to proclaim to everyone I looked in the eye, “You belong, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ.” And because of that, there is no need to fear.