Over the years, I’ve developed a little tradition of writing a letter to the child or children being baptized as the sermon on that Sunday. I’ll be sharing some of these letters here on the blog of the Reformed Journal in the next few Sundays. This letter to Hannah dates back to 1999.
I am writing to you on the most important day of your life!
You may be surprised that I am calling it the most important day. I know that there will be many other important days, probably more memorable days for you and your family — the day you take your first step, your first day in kindergarten, the day you graduate from high school, your wedding day, perhaps the birth of your own child. But as your pastor, I want to remind you that today is still the most important day of your life!
Today marks the beginning of a journey for you. Today, as you and your parents come forward, with the whole church we will publicly acknowledge your identity as a child of God, as God’s beloved. And we will do that as those who have already come to know that we are beloved because of the grace of God for us in Jesus Christ. Today, Hannah, you are joining the company of those who have pledged and been pledged to follow in the footsteps of the one who was crucified and rose again.
As the baptismal liturgy will make it quite clear in a few moments, Hannah, we belong to God. You may not know it or understand it now, but my prayer is that someday you will. When I hold you, I will whisper in your ear, “Hannah Christine, it was for you that Jesus Christ came into the world; for you he died and for you he conquered death. Yes, for you, little one, you who know nothing of it as yet. We love because God first loved us.”
The Heidelberg Catechism puts it in more beautiful words still. Hannah, we are not our own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful savior Jesus Christ.
Don’t be afraid, little one. As you become older, you will discover that there are many things that people fear. As you grow up, there will be times when you are afraid of monsters under your bed, of being lost, or of the dark. Grown-ups can be afraid sometimes too. We are afraid of people’s anger and their rejection, afraid of accidents, of failure, of being alone, or afraid of sickness and death. But you don’t have to be afraid, little one.
You do not understand it now, but someday I hope you will. In our baptisms, you see, we have confronted our ultimate fear. The Bible tells us that in our baptisms we are buried with Christ in his death, so that we may also be raised to the power of new life, like his. That’s right Hannah — in baptism we die — we die to sin, to our old selves — and the life we now live, Christ lives in us.
Someone once said that “baptism is God’s music in our lives. It is the melody that calls us back again and again to the knowledge that we are not alone.” As you go through life, Hannah, you will meet up against people and things who will try to make you forget your baptismal identity.
- When other children tease you on the playground and say mean things to you to make you feel left out and small, remember your baptism!
- When everything, from the clothes you wear, the friends you hang out with, the jobs you get, the money you earn, try to make you forget that you are first and foremost a Christian (one of Christ’s little ones), remember your baptism
- When the world would have you so preoccupied and busy with a hundred different things that you do not have time to come and find life in Christ’s Word proclaimed and at Christ’s table, remember your baptism!
- When other siren songs promise you what can only be found in Christ; lasting security, perfect peace, enduring joy, undying love, remember your baptism!
Yes, we are baptized with water, which points to our cleansing from sin, to our death and resurrection. But along with water, today you are also baptized with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit tells us that God does not dwell far off in some infinity somewhere. Jesus is not a historical figure who has abandoned us. Instead by the Holy Spirit, God comes and dwells among and within his people. And it is because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life that you will cling to your baptismal identity. It is only because of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, that someday you will be able to respond in faith. You will say “yes” to the God who declares“Yes!” to you today.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Hannah, we trust, we love, we do ministry in Christ’s name. Even now, God’s Spirit is at work in your young life, Hannah, though you can not speak or understand words. God’s Spirit assures you that you are beloved, that you belong, that you are called. And that very same Holy Spirit is at work in all the people you can look around and see.
Hannah, I will close this letter now. I have said enough. Suffice it to use the same words that are spoken at the end of the baptismal liturgy. “Hannah Christine, you are a child of the covenant, in baptism you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” My prayer is that someday, you will come to know and to own this for yourself.