by Kurt Reinhardt
I was 43 days old when it happened. I was held over a small pool in the font. Three times the water was poured over my head. God’s creating word was spoken over me. The Spirit descended. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I was reborn as a child of God.
The thing is, I don’t remember it at all. I don’t remember the pastor. I don’t remember hearing the Word spoken. I don’t remember the water washing over me—whether it was cold or warm. I don’t remember whether it made me happy. I don’t remember if I cried or not.
It seems strange that my new life as a child of God should be based on something I can’t remember. It seems even stranger when so much of the living out of that life is supposed to be about remembering my baptism. How can I remember what I can’t remember? It makes you wonder whether it might have been wiser to wait until I was a bit older so that I could remember it better.
Forty-three days earlier, another life giving and shaping moment took place that I also can’t recall. I don’t remember being born in the first place. I don’t remember the doctor or seeing my parents. I don’t remember how I felt that day or if I cried or not. I don’t remember a thing about it.
My birth decided so many things about me, but I have no recollection of the event. I had nothing to do with how it all unfolded; it was God who planned it all out and brought to pass. My birth determined so many things about my life. It decided who would be my dad, my mom, my brother, and my sister. It decided where I would live, where I would eat, and where I would sleep.
Although I can’t remember my birth, much of my life has nevertheless depended on “remembering” it. I remembered it when I told people my name. I remembered it when I gave out my address and phone number. I remembered it when I woke up in the morning and when I went to bed at night. I remembered it walking home from school in the afternoon. Remembering my birth—who I was—told me what house to go home to, what table to eat at, and what bed to fall asleep in.
So too with baptism
Our baptismal day is in many ways like a birthday. It is, after all, a new birth. Our old birth had been messed up by sin. We were created in the image of God, but because Adam turned away from Him, we were all born in the image of our fallen earthly father. God created us to live, but after Eden we were all born to die. Our birth was defective. We needed to be recreated. The image upon us needed to be renewed.
The whole life of Jesus was about restoring us to a right relationship with God. The Son of God became man so that He could fix what Adam had broken. He suffered and died to wash away our sins with His blood. In Holy Baptism, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, I am given new life. I get a new birth. I am born anew from above by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This birth, like my first birth, was an act of God’s grace. As I had nothing to do with my birth into my earthly family, neither did I have anything to do with my birth into my heavenly family. God did it all for me. I never chose who my parents would be or where I would live. In the same way, I never chose my heavenly Father or the heavenly family I was reborn into. Instead, God chose me.
I am a child of God because of what happened 42 years ago when I was only 43 days old. I might not remember how it happened, but my Christian life has everything to do with remembering that it did happen. Just as my worldly birth decided where I would live, eat, and sleep, so did my new birth as a child of God. In baptism, the Church became my home, the Lord’s Table my table, and heaven my resting place when life on earth is done.
A Father, family, and purpose
Remembering my baptism reminds me of so many things. First, it reminds me to Whom I was born: my heavenly Father. It reminds me He is waiting to feed and nourish me at His house every Sunday morning. It reminds me He wants to forgive me when I mess up and fail. It reminds me He wants to hear about all my problems. Baptism reminds me that I have a faithful Father who will see me through all life’s struggles.
My baptism also reminds me that I have a new family in the Church. Through my new birth I have gained countless brothers and sisters. Even if I were all alone in the world, I would always have a large welcoming family in the Church. No matter how lonely I might feel, I am never truly alone. I have brothers and sisters to lean on—brothers and sisters who also need to lean on me. My baptism also helps me when I have a hard time with some of those brothers and sisters, because it reminds me to forgive and bear with them just as God forgives and bears with me.
My baptism reminds me how I am to live in the world. As a reborn child of God, I live in the world but I am not of the world. My life’s purpose and goals are no longer the fruitless ones set by sin. I now abide in the Lord Jesus and He abides in me, and God has therefore made me a part of His gracious plan to share His love with the world. I no longer live only for myself, but I am set free to live as God always intended: in communion with Him, and for the good of others. My baptism keeps me mindful of who I am and of God’s great plan for my life.
A promise that endures
Remembering my baptism orders my whole life as a Christian. Unfortunately, I do not always remember it. I often forget who God has made me to be and so I do not take full advantage of all the blessings that come with being His child. Sadly, I am not as much of a blessing to others as I should be. At times I can even wonder if I truly am a child of God at all.
But the great thing about my baptism is that, like my first birth into the world, it is something I can never lose. I cannot change the facts of my birth. I might throw all the benefits away. I might choose to live as though I was born to someone else. I might decide to live in a way that shames my parents. But none of these things change the fact that I am still their child. In the same way, I can choose to forget my baptism and throw away all its benefits. I can live as though I weren’t God’s child. But I will always have a heavenly Father waiting for me, longing to forgive me, to receive me home.
My baptism is God’s gift to me and He will never take it away. I can turn my back on it and leave it all behind. But that isn’t my heavenly Father’s plan. That’s why the Holy Spirit He poured out on me in baptism continues to work in me to lead me into all truth. The Holy Spirit is at work through God’s Word to remind me who I am. He is at work reminding me of the truths of my baptism. He helps me see where I have wandered from my heavenly Father, and leads me back to Him.
I can’t remember my actual baptism. I can’t remember the words, the water, or the pastor, but with the Spirit’s help I can remember that I am baptized. I can remember it every morning and night when I follow Luther’s advice and make the sign of the cross to begin my prayers. I can remember it throughout the day when I need help, when I sin, and when I feel alone. I can remember it every Sunday morning when I go to Church to receive my Father’s gifts. I can remember it when the time comes to close my eyes on this world and go to my heavenly home.
Years ago when I was just 43 days old I was held over a small pool in the font. Three times the water was poured over my head. God’s creating Word was spoken over me. The Spirit descended. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I was reborn as a child of God. I pray God will always help me remember this truth. And I pray that He will help you remember your baptism too, that you might live in the joy of all its benefits until the day they are fulfilled, entering in at last to His presence forever.
Rev. Kurt Reinhardt is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Gowanstown, Ontario.