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one set of silverware on a tablecloth

Come to the Table

one set of silverware on a tablecloth

Join the feast!

Many years ago, my friend had a young daughter with serious medical issues who had to be hospitalized for several weeks. Understandably, my friend was under enormous stress and she did not have the time, energy, or desire to cook. Her priority was being with her daughter in the hospital. So, for these weeks, she subsisted on rice cakes (this being the early 1990’s, rice cakes were ubiquitous in the low-fat, high carbohydrate craze). It was a quick way to eat, and it felt the appropriate food considering her circumstances. She was sad and fearful, and food had no taste: might as well eat something that tastes as wretched as she feels. It wasn’t just that the rice cakes were dry and flat; her spirit was dry and flat.

Thanks to God’s mercy, the daughter recovered and was released from the children’s hospital. But my friend continued to eat race cakes. Though her child was now well, she had developed a habit of eating them, and a habit is hard to break.

A couple of years passed, and the season of Lent was coming up, a season in which traditionally people give up something of value to them. My friend was surprised when, in prayer, the Holy Spirit nudged her with an invitation: “maybe you should give up rice cakes for Lent.” When my friend told family members, they teased her. After all, people normally fast from something desirable, like chocolate or coffee. Who gives up rice cakes for Lent? But my friend did, and, within days of giving it up, she lost her craving for them. At the conclusion of Lent, she didn’t resume her rice cake eating ways. It was God’s way of signaling to her that her previously dry and flat season was over.

I resonate with my friend’s experience. Too easily I have slipped into the habitual thought. “This is my lot in life: I just have to make do with eating crumbs and feeling crummy.” When I look around at the state of the world and the state of this county, I grow discouraged and overwhelmed: how long will the wicked prosper? In the face of these challenges, I need to be paying attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Seasons change, and there will come a time when this painful season is over. Sometimes I act as if subsisting on rice cakes is the only way forward. But as Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season…a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” There is a season for fasting, and there is a season for feasting. There is a time for us to give up something of value, and there is a time for us to reexamine what has become too valuable to us and why. There is a time to eat rice crackers beside a hospital bed, but there is also a time to come to the Lord’s banqueting table, and experience afresh the banner of love unfurled over our heads.

My hope is that we pay attention and heed God’s gracious invitations to us. When appropriate, God will invite us to mourn and to wear sackcloth, and, also God will eventually invite us to cast off those sackcloth and grave clothes that cling to us long after a season has ended. When the Lord nudges us, let us trade the dry and the tasteless for God’s extravagant banquet.

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Turbulent Waters: Discovering Church

OnesWeLoveImage

Sis on Rocks

Sleepily nursing my eight-day-old daughter after sending my one- and three- year olds off to school, I considered that it was Wednesday. Not just any Wednesday, but Ash Wednesday. I felt something stir deep within my exhausted, still healing body: “I want to go to church today.” Not to preside, but to be present at the beginning of the spiritual and temporal accounting that is Lent. Only the day before, my pediatrician had specifically forbidden me to take my baby to church and risk exposing her to others’ infections. Dare I disregard her advice? Choosing the safer route, I reached out to my fellow young clergy women, seeking sermons they would be preaching that day. I read each sermon aloud to my daughter, each one eloquent and challenging in its own way. But with each sermon that I read, my soul yearned more deeply for church.

I didn’t long to be in my church. I didn’t need to say anything or to know anyone. I imagined sliding into a back pew in a church full of strangers. I imagined joining a long line of worshippers receiving the imposition of ashes. I imagined the ashy sign of the cross on my as-yet unbaptized daughter. Body and soul, I longed for this experience.

It dawned on me that I needed to mark the Lenten journey somehow. Exhausted, on maternity leave from my congregation, I wondered what I might do to stay connected in the rhythm of the church year. I settled on simplicity as my Lenten practice. I resolved to clear out and clean my house during the six weeks before Easter. Each morning I would set my intention to allow the external cleaning process to clear away my internal barriers to God. And each day after only a few minutes I found myself on the phone – my mother, my sister, my best friend, anyone who had time to talk – because again, I longed for community. I wanted to be with someone in the ritual.

Only three weeks later, my infant daughter was hospitalized with RSV and my resolve toward simplicity became a large-as-life reality. I ate. I slept. My husband and I traded child care for our older children and vigil for the baby. And I prayed. On the second night that my daughter was in the hospital, I realized again that I needed church. I reached out to a member of my congregation who has the gift of healing. I needed connection. I needed someone else’s strength, someone else’s prayers. My soul yearned for church.

The next week my daughter came home, and the unrelenting pace of life with young children caught up with me. My husband and I were more exhausted than ever, and now everything needed to be done – dishes, laundry, play time with the children, grocery shopping, hair cuts, school pictures, etc. My life felt out of control, chaotic. I couldn’t find energy to pray or space to sit in God’s presence. I wanted someplace that I could find solitude and solace. I longed for a break from the chaos of our lives. Again, I yearned for church.

The longer I was away from church, the more spiritually unmoored I felt. I became a raft floating on turbulent waters. At the beginning, it seemed I could almost touch the shore from my little raft. But in a few short weeks, I was so far out to sea that I couldn’t even see which direction to point myself. I still longed for something beyond what my family, friends, therapist, or I could provide. I just didn’t know which way to set out in search of what might reconnect me.

And then, my daughter was old enough to venture into the world. We attended church as a family to celebrate Easter. I was exhausted, and I moved through the ritual almost mindlessly. But when I came home, I found I was reconnected, grounded. My soul felt peace. We had experienced church.

Certainly, you find church in the rituals of worship, and indeed in gathering for worship at all. However, church is so much more than worship. It includes my singular experience of God paired with others’ experiences of God, somehow coming together in a communal experience of God. Church is the place where body meets body and soul meets soul. It is the place of absolute safety and security, where we each are defined by God’s love of us — and where we together come to completion in that love. Without all of these elements, church never becomes church. Perhaps this was Paul’s intention when he spoke of the community as the Body of Christ. This community, this church, brings us connection, grace, strength, healing, peace.

Easter Sunday night was a tough one. I was up with the baby more often than I was asleep. Yet somehow, even in this sleeplessness, I found a rest I had not felt in a long time. I still had a long way to go on my journey back to wholeness, but I no longer felt completely unmoored. The waters felt calmer; I knew which way to head. I felt direction, connection, peace.

I can meet God on a beautiful lakefront. I can meet God in personal Bible study and prayer. But I can’t meet you there. I now understand how it is significant that we do church together. Participating in ritual alongside other people connects us with God in an important and unique way. Whether it’s trudging the road to the cross during Lent, or celebrating the risen Christ in the Eucharist, or living our day-to-day chaotic lives, church invites us to do it in community. Others’ simple presence tells us we’re not alone; we’re not the only ones. And that makes all the difference.

 

 

A Geek’s Guide to Holy Week

Synagoge,_Enschede,_MozaiekA Geek’s Guide to Holy Week

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the King of the Universe, though he was in the “form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” This death, the one that tore the Temple veil in two and re-oriented the entire universe, is one that we remember each and every year in what’s known as Holy Week. The main event is the Triduum Sacrum, the three sacred days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

Maundy Thursday is a celebration of remembrance. On the night before he died, Our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated the Feast of the Passover. All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. Together with his disciples, he gave thanks to God for the startling deliverance of God’s people in their flight from Egypt. And he commanded us to remember this Mandatum Novum, this New Commandment, in a feast of bread and wine, in a gift of humble service to one another. We wash one another’s feet to follow Christ’s example of selfless love. We partake of the Holy Eucharist, our Never-Feast wherein we imagine & remember the world as it could be, rather than what it is. But this joyous celebration is tinged with sadness – though this banquet remembers and re-members our community as participants in the Body of Christ, by the end of the service, we remember, too, the guards who invaded the garden and took Jesus away, the man who betrayed him with a kiss. The altar is stripped of all its finery as the clergy solemnly remove each piece. The congregation intones Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.” The consecrated Host is processed ceremonially to a new place, decorated to resemble the Garden where Jesus awaited that arrest. “Can you not stay awake even one hour?” Jesus asked. We answer by our presence, praying with him in this garden, hour by hour. And if we cannot pray, it is a time to simply be – to sit in the presence of Eternity in the knowledge that we are not alone. And neither is Jesus.

Good Friday is the center of the three sacred days, the Empire Strikes Back of our story. When we pick up after our cliffhanger of the arrest, hiding out in the garden, waiting for the bad news that will surely come, we enter the church in silence. We stand together and read the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John. We play the role of the crowd in the story. “The majority / does not make the vote correct. / Give us Barabbas.” We are the majority, the ones sufficiently frightened by the change Jesus brings to look the other way while the Republic becomes the Empire, while the Death Eaters take over the Ministry. Good Friday is our opportunity to remember our faults, even as we pray for God “graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross.” We kneel before that Cross because by Christ’s death upon that cross, he has redeemed the world.

The trilogy concludes with Easter, the triumphant celebration that Christ not only died because of and to redeem our sins, but that he rose again. Not a thin, listless waif raised to life by a Resurrection Stone (designed by Death as a trick), not awakened by a Lesser Restoration spell, but a strong victory of Deep Magic over the cruel vindictiveness of human sin. We commemorate this most holy night in vigil and prayer by walking with Christ. We kindle the new fire, the Paschal candle, the light shining in a darkness that shall not overcome. We join our voices with heavenly hosts in the ancient chant of the Exultet. We hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history in stories from the Hebrew bible. We stand with those who are buried with Christ in baptism as we renew our baptismal vows, assured that we who have been buried with him shall also be raised with him. And as the blazing light of victory rises before us, we proclaim “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” “The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!”

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Holy Week Pro Tips Edition

Cross with Birds

Cross with Birds

Dear Askie,

It’s Holy Week in my first call! I’m a solo pastor at a small UCC church, and I’m trying to gear up, but I’m not really sure what to expect or what I need to do. The liturgies are prepared, the sermons are written (well, mostly written), the bulletins are proofread, and I have plenty of bread and juice for communion. What else do I need to do? I’m sure there’s something I’m not thinking of. Besides that, I’ve heard a lot of advice to “practice good self­care” during Holy Week, but I’m not really sure how specifically to do that. Any tips? Please save me from potential disasters!

Thanks,
Holy Week Rookie

Dear Rookie,

Blessings and prayers for your first Holy Week in this new role! Holy Week is an odd experience, a strange mixture of hectic and contemplative, a walk through a familiar story that still feels new almost every time. It’s different at every church and in every denomination, too. You’re UCC, so I’m guessing that you might not have as many worship services as our high­church sisters, but it can be grueling nonetheless. It’s already Thursday, so you’re about to head into the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Here are a few “pro tips” for your first Holy Week from Askie and her team of advisors:

  • Rethink your pre­clergy Holy Week practices: Before you were an ordained clergywoman, you were probably a very devoted lay person — most of us clergy were. Perhaps you used to fast on Good Friday, or take Saturday as a silent retreat day, or read the whole Gospel of Mark from beginning to end. Whatever time­intensive spiritual practice you used to do, I would recommend that you not do that anymore. Especially not the fasting ­ no one wants a cranky, light­headed pastor passing out in the pulpit. Re­evaluate your practices and think about what would be meaningful for you in your life as a pastor.
  • Set aside time for sleep and exercise over the next few days: Put them in your calendar. At this point, there is no logistical or liturgical task so important that you should do it instead of sleeping. Your people need a pastor who is centered and present much more than they need an exquisitely edited sermon. In the words of the New Zealand Prayer Book, “What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be.”
  • Prepare meals in advance: You think you’re going to come home after Maundy Thursday and whip up a stir fry? Oh,
    sweet heart, I’ve been there and it didn’t happen — I ordered another pizza. This afternoon, figure out what you’re going to eat for dinner the next few days that’s easy and nutritious. Turkey burgers and baby carrots? Quick chili you can put in the slow cooker before running out the door? Maybe scrambled eggs? Figure out what you can pack for lunches and snacks, too. Buy the groceries. Chop the vegetables. Actually, it being Thursday,, see if you can buy them pre­chopped.
  • Allow yourself time to respond to the story: We became clergy because the story of Jesus speaks to us. We became clergy because we wanted to follow him by serving his church. We’re going to be telling the story of his betrayal, suffering, death, and burial, and eventually his resurrection. No matter how many times you’ve heard and told the story, Good Friday can really punch you in the gut. Maybe that’s a good thing, but be gentle with yourself. The Passion brings up strong emotions: grief, guilt, anger, and more. Don’t be surprised; give yourself some time to process the story once again.
  • Schedule your time off now: You need an extra day off next week. Maybe two. Block them off now, if you haven’t already.
  • Find out “how we always do things”: It’s your first Holy Week at this church, so get on the phone with a few of your church’s matriarchs and patriarchs. Ask them to tell you about how they do Holy Week services. Almost every church has some idiosyncratic traditions around these days. At Askie’s church, we have special silver that is only used for Easter Communion, and we turn to face the rear during the last hymn (there’s a beautiful stained glass window there). No one might think to tell you this church’s Holy Week quirks until you’ve failed to observe them… but make your phone calls now, and at least you can say you tried!
  • Think all the way through your liturgies: Are you washing feet and then serving Communion? Do you have hand sanitizer near the Communion table? Are the congregants leaving the sanctuary in darkness? How will they be able to see to walk out? Go through every order of worship piece by piece, looking for the things that are liable to go wrong, and think about how to help them go smoothly.
  • Figure out your shoes: You’re going to be standing a lot, so figure out which ones will be professional enough without killing your feet. Make sure they’re polished, too.
  • On the other side: Take Easter Monday off. Once you’re back, though, think about what went well and what didn’t. Think about whether you want to add anything (only add one thing at a time), and whether you want to let go of anything. Think about what you’re going to do differently, and what you’re going to do the same.

    Best of luck, and so many prayers for you and your congregation, Rookie. You’ll be fine, and Christ will rise no matter what.

    Blessings,
    Askie

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Easter Egg Edition

7917892_09e9961302_oDear Askie,

I have been informed in no uncertain terms that it is the tradition of my church to hold an Easter Egg Hunt on the afternoon of the Friday before Easter. “The afternoon of the Friday before Easter.” Really. They think it’s really great, because the kids have that day off from school and it gives them something to do. I like fun as much as the next Minister of Word and Sacrament, but for the love of all that is holy, what am I going to do about this?

Yours in apoplexy,

Liturgically Correct Curmudgeon

 

Dear Curmudgeon,

Oh goodness.

Sometimes the sacred and secular worlds get along just fine. Other times there is some tension between them. And sometimes, I guess, even church folks get drawn in by the siren call of secular culture, in direct opposition to the church and its traditions. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect example than this one: “On Good Friday, the day traditionally set apart for remembering Jesus’ suffering and death, we dress our children in pastel-colored clothing and send them out to hunt for brightly colored plastic eggs filled with candy!”

Askie has a number of questions, so let’s start with the most pressing. At this Easter egg hunt, do they also bring in one of those monstrous bunny-people in the huge wicker chairs? Because those things are the stuff of nightmares.

Getting down to business, though, Curmudgeon, since you’re just now hearing of this egg hunt tradition, it sounds like this is your first year in this call, so you may need to proceed with extra caution. Clergy are often advised not to change anything in the first year. It might be best to treat this as your “listening year” – watch your congregation for a year, learn how they observe the various seasons and holidays, listen to what’s important to them, and you may be in a much better position to make changes the next time Easter rolls around. When it’s time to make those changes, Curmudgeon, figure out what your priorities are. This is a pretty important one, but I’d peg a “Good Friday egg hunt” congregation as pretty likely to also be a “Christmas carols all December” congregation, and an “American flag on the altar for Independence Day” congregation. Taking those all on at once is a pretty tall order, so be strategic.

When you’re ready to move ahead on this one, take a few deep breaths, spend some time in prayer, and work on non-anxious, self-differentiated presence. Remember that your congregants are unlikely to respond well to outrage, disdain, and liturgical self-righteousness, justified though those feelings may be. (Askie had them herself on your behalf as she read your letter.) You’ll likely need to do some teaching as you guide your congregation toward shifting their tradition. They may not be especially familiar with liturgical seasons, and you may need to show them how the rhythm of the church year helps us practice our Christian faith. You may encounter some anti-Catholic sentiments, and you may need to encourage your congregants to re-examine what divides Protestantism and Catholicism, what unites us, and whether we really need to carry the torch of acrimony we’ve inherited from our forebears about this division in Christ’s body.

You may find it helpful to play up the idea of the church as counter-cultural, and to start in areas that have nothing to do with Easter eggs. Askie’s favorite angle is that the secular world defines our worth by material possessions and monetary success, but in the church, we believe that our worth comes from our identity as created and redeemed children of God. When they are used to hearing, “The world says X, but the church says Y,” it might start to be easier for them to hear, “The world says Easter is about candy and bunnies, but the church says it’s about the resurrection of Christ.” And once they get that, they may be able to see why it matters to walk the journey from Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion to his resurrection, and how a Good Friday egg hunt might be counter-productive to that purpose.

I hope they don’t just cancel the egg hunt, though! Maybe when they’re ready, you can help them think about what that event does for the community, and find a better way to fulfill some of the same needs. Could they reschedule the egg hunt (hopefully not to Holy Saturday), and have you offer a welcome that brings in themes of faith? Could they organize some family-friendly activity more appropriate to the solemnity of the day? How can they offer service and witness to the wider world? How can they follow Paul’s advice: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2)?

They may never be ready, though, Curmudgeon, and you may need to discern how much of a curmudgeon you’re going to be about this, as we each need to discern how we will walk the line between secular and sacred. Does your polity allow you to call the egg hunt off altogether, and is that worth the bridges you’ll burn in doing so? Maybe you are called to minister by letting the egg hunt go on as usual while you build up meaningful new Holy Week worship services. Maybe you are called to minister by attending the egg hunt and talking to the kids about Jesus, in hope that your words plant a seed of faith. It’s a decision that only you can make, Curmudgeon, based on your convictions and your context.

No matter what happens this Easter, and the one after that, Curmudgeon, may God give you compassion, wisdom, and grace to help your flock draw closer to Christ.

Blessings,
Askie

“The Gospel According to…”

medium_5196311746A few months ago, I attended a conference about storytelling. As I packed my bags and started to wrap my mind around what storytelling and church might have in common, I’ll admit it, I was skeptical. But what came from that conference is perhaps one of the most beautiful, gospel giving moments I’ve ever encountered in my ministry.

One of the nights at the conference, we learned about sharing our own stories and how they impact our communal understandings of well, communion. Our lives together in this beautiful thing we call church depend so much on hearing one another’s stories, living into one another’s joys, hurts, sorrows and celebrations. And how often do we really get to do this during our worship?

For the season of Easter at my church, we decided to take this storytelling idea and put it into practice on Sunday mornings. Because of the makeup of our church, its urban setting and our culture, Sundays are really the days we see each other during the week. For these weeks of Easter, we’ll read two less lectionary texts and instead hear “The Gospel According to…” in their place. We’ll hear resurrection stories that are current, contemporary and contextual.

Taking the basics from the conference, we invited congregation members to share their own resurrection stories in two to four minutes. We pitched the idea on Shrove Tuesday with a pancake dinner and bacon (people will consider a lot of things when you offer them free pancakes and bacon) and invited church members to take the season of Lent to reflect on a story of resurrection in their own lives. During Lent, they met with pastors, reflected on their idea, put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and looked for signs of resurrection all around them.

And this pastor has had quite the moving experience. I’ve sat in my office and listened to resurrection stories full of hope, promise and the presence of God. And I’ve listened to messy stories where everything isn’t resolved, but light still pokes through the darkness. The promise of resurrection leans in and it can’t be stripped from the story. I never would have known these stories if we hadn’t tried this endeavor in worship.

Barbara Brown Taylor has a sermon based on the Magnificat for the season of Advent. She calls Mary’s song “singing ahead of time.” I can’t help but think of that sermon each time I’ve sat down to hear the stories of church members. Over cups of coffee and homemade pastries, we’ve cried and we’ve laughed reflecting on God’s goodness and how we all need to slow down a little more to look for signs of resurrection all around us. We’ll hear stories about lost jobs, lost loves, healed family relationships, experiences in courthouses, our own health and meals around tables.

The fear everyone had in the beginning was that they wouldn’t have a resurrection story in their own lives. They couldn’t think of a tomb-rolling-away kind of situation. Turns out, the stories that most encourage us and show God’s activity in our lives are the stories involving relationships, ordinary time and in the midst of chaos. Life is not peaceful, but resurrection is still present. Life was not peaceful when Jesus resurrected. It was full of questions and chaos and pain.

Our church members are singing ahead of time as they long for the completion of what is to come. They hope, they search for hope and by sharing their stories, we all have streams of light pouring into our lives.

Newness of Life 
Or: How I Gave up the Waders and Learned to Love the Water

Easter morning. The sanctuary is full. The trumpet fanfare happens right on cue and the lilies – in addition to making my nose itch – are beautiful. Streamers hang from the ceiling and flowers have taken the place of the black sash on the cross. The congregation is preparing for communion as the newly baptized slip back into their seats, self-consciously aware of their wet hair.

I am standing in the hallway behind the sanctuary, fully clothed and completely wet. The waders have failed me again.

I should explain, especially for you sprinklers and baptizers of infants. In my tradition, we practice believer’s baptism by full immersion, which means, in lay terms, that we dunk older kids and adults all the way under the water. Often, this happens in the middle of Sunday worship when the presiding minister needs to conduct the baptism and then continue the rest of the service.

So, somewhere along the way, we started wearing waders. Picture giant rubber fishing boots, with suspenders, and a drawstring at the chest. They look every bit as ridiculous as they sound. But once you put the white robe over top and step into the baptistery, the congregation can’t tell what you’re wearing. In theory, they enable one to quickly move from leading worship, to the baptistery, and back again, without the hassle of getting wet and changing clothes.

Not so for me.

The waders at my church, which have been hanging in the back closet since, oh, 1962, are several sizes too big for me, built for a much taller and bigger person – a man, no doubt.  My stocking feet slide around in the rubber boots as I trudge up the steps to the baptistery. An older male pastor tells me he usually just steps into his, leaving his shoes on and everything; these waders were definitely not made for women’s heels.

(The waders are only one of the tools of the trade through which I feel the weight of years of male pastors bearing down on me. Another big one is my lapel mike: I finally started wearing my robe at our informal service because there was nowhere to clip the battery pack when I wore a dress, and I refused to rig it up with duct tape, reality-TV style.)

So the waders don’t work for me. The water is too deep, or the drawstring isn’t tight enough, or they just plain don’t fit. When I lean over with the young woman being baptized, my arm braced on her back to help her back up, the water rushes right over those suspenders and down into the toes of those too-big boots, soaking my top, my skirt, and well, everything else.

And now I need to be back in the sanctuary in a matter of minutes to sing the closing hymn and offer the benediction. I strip off my damp pantyhose and put my robe back on, over my wet clothes. When I sit down, I can feel the dampness of my skirt soaking through the lining and into the outer fabric my robe. I think a few words that are not particularly appropriate for a clergy person on Easter morning.

“Can you tell I’m all wet?” I whisper to our worship team leader, who has been helping mop up drips on the floor. She stands behind me and tilts her head. I walk a few steps and turn, as if I’m modeling a new dress. “No, I think it’s okay,” she says, and I’m pretty sure she’s lying. “Can you just hold your hymnal behind you?”

I can’t quite see how that will be less conspicuous than a damp spot on the back of my robe, but I nod, because it’s time to go. I make it through the last hymn and muster up some enthusiasm for a few last alleluias, praying that the choir, standing behind me, is thinking more about the resurrection than my derriere.

As I process out in front of one of our (male) elders, and then stand strategically with my back to the wall and greet the Easter crowd, I decide, for good, that I’m done with the waders.

Baptism is ineffable, mysterious. A sacrament, a means of grace, a holy moment, an entry into the body of Christ, the family of God. It’s hard to describe what happens there, so it’s no surprise that when I talk to kids about baptism, they are mostly interested in the water. It’s symbolic, I tell them, it represents dying and rising with Christ. Yes, they say, but will the water be cold? They want to know how the water gets in there (a faithful deacon), and how deep it will be (just deep enough) and whether they’ll have time to blow dry their hair afterwards (no).

We need water to live, to drink, cook, clean. The waters of baptism reminds us of the first breath of creation, when the wind from God swept over the face of the deep. The water reminds us of John standing in the Jordan, of Jesus rising from the waters with the dove descending overhead.

Of course, the over-sized bathtub at the front of our sanctuary is a far cry from the waters of the Jordan River. Some traditions make a point of going outside, to a lake, a river, the ocean, to do their dunking. I happen to like standing in the water in the middle of the congregation, in that space where the community gathers for worship and is sent out to work in the world, with the church family looking on and offering up their love and prayers.

Most people only step into those waters once in a lifetime. It occurs to me, in my wet clothes on Easter morning, that it is a gift, an honor, to accompany people in that moment. In a way, the waders set up a barrier between me and the water, implying that I can slip in and out, unaffected by this holy moment, unmoved by the Spirit that hovers over those waters, untouched by the challenge of the congregation to the newly baptized: Walk in the newness of life. When they come up out of the water, a little bit awed and just slightly out of breath, maybe I ought to be breathless, too. Maybe I ought to be wet.

A few weeks after Easter, I step into the baptistery again, barefoot this time, with a change of clothes waiting for me in the hall. I reach out to take the hand of a fourth-grader who has decided that she’s ready to enter, fully and completely, the body of Christ. She steps down, and the water embraces both of us. It is pure grace.

Lee Hull Moses was baptized in Tipton, Indiana, and sat with wet hair in the midst of a congregation she loved. Now, she gets wet at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is the co-author of a book on parenting and theology which will be published by the Alban Institute later this year. 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/pyth0ns/4571657460/”>Mark J P</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>