Remember Who You Are



I have prayed it publicly at hundreds of baptisms, but yesterday it stuck in my throat. After the water has flowed and the rite is concluded we say, “Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin.” Water for cleansing. Washing away sin.

We wash only dirty things. Yet I could see nothing smudged about these six magnificent infants with wet crowns, foreheads glistening with chrism oil. For that matter, I could see nothing dirty about their parents and grandparents, all the adults sitting in rapt witness to this moment. That is—I am not suggesting the “innocence” of children, and I am not naïve about human willfulness. We have a big problem, but it is not some stain on an alabaster heart. We are not unclean people in need of a soul scrubbing.

Every religion has within it a “purity” strain, where sin is defined as sullying your pure soul. The Hebrew scriptures, especially those passages influenced by the priestly writers, make spiritual crud the essential human problem. Many of the sacrificial rites of the temple promised to wash away that impurity with the blood of bulls and oxen and lambs. Inheriting this imagination, some in the Christian tradition interpreted the death and “shed blood” of Jesus as the new and better soul cleaner. But the problem to be solved was still the inherent defilement of the human being.

The real problem with us humans is simply this: we run away from love and forfeit our inheritance as daughters and sons of God. That is our sin. It is as crazy and unbelievable as turning our backs on a castle and stalking off to a hovel, but we all do it. Our repentance (which simply means “to turn around”) is to return to love, like the Prodigal Son, to come home.

Every one of those six soaked infants will one day forget their divine identity and exchange their birthright, like Esau, for a “mess of pottage.” They will probably be restless, unhappy and lost, but they will not be dirty. They won’t need to be cleaned up and made presentable. They will just need someone to say, ‘Remember who you are,’ maybe tell them a story about a boy who wandered far from home and then finally came home, and the father running to meet him and the great party that went on into the night.

I am pretty much resigned to the fact that I can’t say that in place of the liturgy of baptism. But while I am muttering those prayers on the outside, that is what I will be shouting on the inside.

2 Responses to Remember Who You Are
  1. Ann Koberna
    September 29, 2018 | 3:44 pm

    Your words, “The real problem with us humans is simply this: we run away from love….Our repentance (which simply means “to turn around”) is to return to love”, are TRUTH. Whether it is my fearful desire for control or my immersion in distractions, I turn away without even recognizing I’m doing so. Thank you for this reminder of my human nature and God’s Grace as I turn back around, once again.

    • David Anderson
      October 2, 2018 | 9:53 am

      Every day, yes—we turn around… sometimes every hour!

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