They announced in the worship service that, in the evening, there would be a baptismal service for a member of the youth group. After the morning service had ended, there was the usual chatting and snacking and lingering, but this time a sizable group had congregated in the center of the worship space. A large circle of the floor had been lifted away, revealing a deep fiberglass basin. A gaggle of children of all ages surrounded one of the adult leaders, some standing around the basin, some gleefully running up and down the built-in steps and jumping in circles on the bottom. Their energy was riveting, and it didn’t stop when the basin began to fill with water. The children sat around the edge, legs dangling and swinging, watching the water swirl beneath them.
Later that day, many of these children would be present to see a young man walk into the water and be dipped under. Maybe some of them would understand what was happening – maybe they wouldn’t. But whether they were present or not, knowledgeable of the sacrament or not, each of the children got to experience with their eyes and ears and feet and hands what the grace and excitement of baptism is like. They were able to practice it – to feel the contours of the space and join in the celebration with their bodies.
I don’t know how many people were aware of the purpose of the tiny, wooden fonts at the side of a typical mainline chancel in the churches where I grew up. We didn’t reference them very often. As a child, I’d been witness to only a handful of baptisms; and there was no way for me to touch or taste or hear or smell the experience of the baptism. For something that was supposed to be a tangible sign of an intangible grace, the sacrament of baptism did not engage my body in the sacred.
Children are not the only ones who need to touch and feel the truth of God’s grace. To be human is to have a body. When God sought to include us in God’s life, God didn’t require us to shed our bodies and become pure spirit. Instead, God took on a body, and it is saving miracle of the incarnation and the bodily resurrection that we affirm in baptism.
All of us humans are in profound need of an experience of grace that goes beyond something simply intellectual that we observe. A purely “spiritual” experience that does not take into account our flesh and feeling is not spiritual at all, for it does not encompass the whole of who God made us to be nor the whole of the salvation story.
I pray that we all have experiences in which we can respond to God’s gifts of grace and sacrament with all the abandon of an excited child playing in the baptismal font – that we may join God’s sacred dance in our bodies.