Connecting Baptism and Lent
Q. I’ve heard that baptism and Lent are supposed to go together, but I don’t know why, and I haven’t noticed any such connections made in my church. Should there be?
A. Recently I was listening to a search committee interview a prospective pastor. The question was asked, “How would you keep our Reformed identity in front of the church?” Without hesitation, the pastor replied, “Talk about our baptism as much as we can!” What a great response! Indeed, remembering our baptism should be a frequent activity in the church, and Lent is a great time to remember it. As John Witvliet wrote in this column in RW 55 (March 2000), “In the early church, Lent was not an extended period for meditation on Christ's suffering. Instead, it was a time when candidates for (adult) baptism would engage in group study and prayer to prepare for their baptism on Easter. . . . To support these study and prayer sessions for learning the faith, Lenten worship became a time when the whole congregation committed itself to live up to the calling of baptism.”
Imagine how your congregation might focus more on baptism during Lent. Here are just a few suggestions to start a brainstorming discussion in your local context:
- Move the baptismal font to a prominent spot in front of the sanctuary (if it isn’t there already) and adorn it with Lenten purple fabric, flowers, or paraments.
- Move the baptismal font near the main entrance of the sanctuary and encourage people to dip their hands in the water and remember their baptism as they come to worship.
- Begin the season of Lent with a service that includes a remembrance of baptism, such as the “Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows” liturgy in Sing! A New Creation (240).
- Provide a Lenten Bible study or devotional series on the theme of baptism.
- During Lent, study the new “Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism,” composed by the U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed Church Dialogue and recently approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Christian Reformed Church.
- Preach a series of sermons and plan worship service themes related to baptism stories in the Bible or themes on the meaning of baptism, including conversion, washing away of sins, death and resurrection, putting on the new clothes of the new life, and so on.
- During Lent, prepare individuals for adult baptism or new parents for infant baptism by holding a preparation class, culminating in a baptism service on Easter Sunday.
- Encourage persons young and old to remember their baptism by looking up the date and sharing pictures of the occasion. Consider posting those photos on the church’s website or Facebook page or projecting them before or during Lenten worship services to remind all of their baptisms.
- Remember your baptism whenever you encounter water. A few years ago I was walking with a friend between buildings on the campus where I work. It was after a rain shower, and though the rain had stopped, a steady stream of water was falling from the roof of the building we were going to, splattering all who approached its doors. As we laughed and plunged through the quick downpour, my friend shouted, “Remember your baptism!” To this day, when I get rained on from a sudden shower or even a passing sprinkler, I think of her words and her laughter . . . and I do remember my baptism!