This coming Sunday is the Sunday in the life of the church where we remember the baptism of Jesus. For many of us, it also is a Sunday where we remember our own baptism, and renew our commitments to God. Although it isn’t a high, holy day in the church calendar, perhaps it should be. In a real sense, if we take these services seriously, this isn’t unlike Yom Kippur, where we pledge our allegiance to God for the coming year.
One of the things we struggle with in the United Methodist Church is ritualizing baptism in a way that isn’t equated with re-baptism. Our theology holds that we recieve one baptism, which continues to be valid throughout our lives (a theology that focuses on God’s act in baptism rather than human response). Yet, we also recognize that the cycle of faith leads folks to need rituals which confirm their faith in God, or confirm the new stages of faith to which they are entering. This is true for this Sunday where we ask folks to connect with the reality behind their baptism and renew their vows to God and one another.
One method of doing this that I have done for several years is to gather some clear glass beads or marbles (usually found in the floral arranging sections of craft stores like Michaels) and place them in a large shell or bowel filled with water. As a part of the service, I invite folks to come forward and take a glass bead as a taken of their baptism. Of course, to do this they have to place their hand in the water, thus serving as a reminder of the cool waters of baptism. I encourage them to carry their bead with them, to keep it in their pocket so that they will always remember who they are and who they belong to wherever they go.
As a liturgical element for this service, the recitation of the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed is certaily appropriate. As a Wesleyan, I like to use the Covenant Prayer of John Wesley in this service as an affirmation of the covenant we make to one another.
Finally, this is a great service to be creative in the altar design. I have been in services which use fountains as a part of the service. Another creative design used fabric to create the illusion of a waterfall streaming down from the altar table. However you can, make sure to get a connection to the waters of baptism in this service.