There is nothing fancy or flashy here on this Sunday morning in July.
Our 100-year-old theater doesn’t come with a baptismal. So an old horse trough is dragged onto the stage, emptied of debris and filled with cold water. Trash bags and a plastic crate behind to catch spills. An Igloo thermos nearby with boiling water to ease the chill. We're so ragtag here, and I smile because it’s beautiful to me.
Our pastor offers words on what it means to follow Jesus, reading from the Word until the little ones in the crowd grow restless, kept up from their Sunday School classes a bit longer because one of the teachers is being baptized himself, and his wife (another teacher) should be there, and this is what church family does – we cover and adjust and shift as we love one another. Such grace that we can make last-minute changes and everyone just rolls with it because this, this is important.
Up by the trough now, he calls up two sisters, 7 and 9, blond and beautiful. They have decided that this is the day, and he speaks of symbolism and sacrifice as each takes her turn stepping into the pool, lowered past the edge and under by their parents while the words are spoken.
"Because of your decision to follow Christ, we baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Claps and cheers from the gathered community; we have watched them grow up, and now are privileged to witness this moment.
Another young girl walks the steps with her family. Her smile – the same one I remember from her toddler years - lights the stage and she takes her own journey under the water and the hands of her mother and father. Cameras flash while aunts and uncles beam. The bags aren’t really containing the spilled water, but no one cares. This is holy ground today.
Then our Maya’s name is called. Earlier this week she made the decision – that it was time. We’ve talked and prayed and yes. She’s ready. We climb the stairs and she kicks off her sandals, grins at me as she climbs into the tank. Mark’s hand is at one side of her back, mine on the other, and we bend together, tipping her into the water like we did when she was an infant. Now we’re celebrating her new life again, and I don't know where the time went, and I love her so much I could burst wide open.
(Photos courtesy of Nichole Schrock Photography)
Applause rings out and I wrap my dripping girl in a towel, kiss her forehead as she bounces against me. Before we head for dry clothes, she whispers a request to stop and watch the last baptism of the morning. We stand at the back of the auditorium to see wife lower husband beneath the surface while their little daughter looks on. Something catches in my throat.
Later, our white-haired worship leader speaks of rejoicing in heaven and we sing together…
Oh happy day, happy day
He washed my sins away
Oh happy day, happy day
I’ll never be the same
Forever I am changed
Walking across the parking lot toward lunch, Maya holds my hand. “I did feel a little bit different afterward, Mama.”
“Yeah? In what way, sweetie?"
“Trembling with excitement!”
Oh happy day, indeed.
He just keeps making beautiful things, making us new.