If you show up for worship on a Sunday morning at Trinity Reformed Church, the congregation I pastor, you better watch where you sit. Not because you’ll be stealing someone’s long cherished seats (you might, but we’re far too polite to mention it), not because some of our seats have more legroom than others (although that’s true), but because in certain seats, the odds are high that you will get wet.
Worship begins with the lighting of the Christ candle and the pouring of the baptismal water. Fire and water remind us that Christ is among us and, in Christ, we have been adopted into God’s people.
Trinity’s baptismal bowl is a beautiful piece of swirled stained glass. It’s quite shallow and housed directly in front of the first row seats. When water comes pouring down from the pitcher, there is inevitably some splashing onto the folks sitting in the first two rows.
Rather than dampening my pouring enthusiasm, the spraying water has inspired me to hold the pitcher higher, pour more briskly, and embrace the splash. I’ve noticed that young children will drag their parents to these seats, or reach their hands forward to catch the water. Unsuspecting adults look up and smile when the water hits them too.
This got me wondering, since everyone can’t sit in the first two rows of seats, how could I extend this baptismal experience to the farthest reaches of the sanctuary? To the folks on the fringes, who sit close to the door to quickly make their escape after the service ends?
I was excited to learn that our more sacramental siblings already have an answer to this conundrum—the aspergillum. Basically a sphere on the end of a stick, with an enclosed water reservoir or sponge, the aspergillum is meant to sprinkle water on a congregation far and near. For a simple version, grasses or plants can be gathered in a bunch, dipped in water, and flicked toward the congregation.
One of our members had already crafted such a tool for herself (Trinity is a delightfully quirky place) and allowed me to borrow it. Which meant I found myself one Sunday morning before worship asking my children to stand at different places in the sanctuary to see how far I could fling the waters of baptism. I was disappointed to learn that my most powerful flicks would only send the water about halfway across the sanctuary (and would leave my folder and sleeve quite wet).
Liturgically this problem was easily solved by taking the aspergillum on the road, moving throughout the aisles with a smaller bowl of water to make sure everyone got a bit wet. But more widely, this problem is hard to overcome.
As the people of God, we long to splash the waters of the gospel far and near, to see the world made new in Christ’s reign. But so often, our very best flings seem to leave the world parched and dry.
- We summon all our curiosity and self-control to listen to our neighbor’s perspective, but the leaders of our nation still bicker like toddlers on the world stage.
- We give up disposable coffee cups, purchase reusable sandwich bags, and use cloth napkins, yet islands of plastic still float in our oceans.
- We sit on the board of our local food pantry, we donate non-perishables, we offer coffee and conversation at the downtown shelter; and yet we know that so many will go to sleep hungry, lonely, and cold.
As hard as we fling the water, the desert of our world needs more to flourish, and we become discouraged.
It’s in these moments that Jesus’ words to his disciples are particularly good news:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory…[he] will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The good news of the gospel is that we need not irrigate all of creation on our own. Instead, as the baptized people of God we are set free to trust that God’s aspergillum flings in broader and more mysterious strokes than we can imagine.
Secure in that knowledge, let us swim and splash and play in the waters of our baptisms. And then, let us lift our pitchers high, flick the water as far as we can, and trust the gentle power of Christ’s good news to cover the whole world with grace.