Maybe the first card game you ever learned to play was ‘snap’. I don’t remember learning it but I did teach it to my daughters. It is really easy … divide up all the cards equally, don’t look at the faces of the cards, then we take turns at turning one over. If that card matches the previous one, shout ‘SNAP’. First one to shout gets all the turned up cards, and when you get all the cards you win. See … easy. So right after you explain the rules somebody will likely say (and maybe you just did), “But what if we both shout SNAP at the same time?” That’s how we deal with a lot of things in life. The rule says this, and somebody will go digging to find a “But what if?” question. This is not just the stuff of lawyers and physicists (yes they like to ask lots of “But what if?” questions too).
This is not just a modern phenomenon. In Jesus day he had to deal with some “But what if?” characters like we find in Mark 12:
- The Pharisees asked, as a Jew, is it right to pay taxes to the emperor?
- The Sadducees asked Jesus about a woman who married seven times and “In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.’”
- A scribes asked ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’
Each of these are “but what if?” questions. So is there room for that kind of question around our sacraments? As a final year seminary student, I wrote the following for my bishop’s examination as I prepared for ordination:
Baptism is a sacrament, a mystery of God’s operational grace and forgiveness. It is God’s doing not ours and is God’s gift to God’s people. With baptism I still have not come up with a convincing argument for ever saying no to a request. Baptism contains an unconditional promise, so how can I be the judge of dispensing God’s grace? However, I would push for baptismal preparation for parents, sponsors and/or catechumen. These conversations would be an opening to discuss the ideas of Christian love as a community act. Jesus’ command was to love God and love neighbour. That can only be lived out in relationship with others within the whole community of God’s people. Baptism is also the initiation of an individual into the holy catholic church. This initiation is for the church community too.
I recently was asked question about baptism that prodded my thinking on this. Can I have my son baptised not as part of the regular Sunday morning worship? My first reaction was to ask why and I got a good answer (the details of the answer are not the important part). So on Christmas Eve morning I will be baptizing two year John Waddell. How does that become an event for our faith community? I guess I have the chance to ask my own “but what if?” question. This baptism is not part of our normal public worship calendar, “But what if the community came to join in that event?” And that is what we will be doing. I have asked some members of council to join us on Christmas Eve morning for a worship and baptism service.
I had a second request about baptism that is a little different again. As I write on 10 December, I cannot share those details with you, but again the question raised is about being baptized into a community. “But what if” the baptism occurred with the person’s closest community by his/her side? The answer would seem obvious. Baptism is always into a community where the individual participates in Christian love as a community act. That’s gotta be a yes.
On 13 January we will be celebrating the “Baptism of Our Lord”. On that day we will be celebrating and affirming our own baptismal covenants of Christian love as a community act. Prepare to get wet!
Peace – Pastor Steve