“As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
We say the same thing about those we baptize, that they are beloved children of God. This is essential to our faith, that we are all God’s beloved children, and that God is passionately and deeply involved in our lives.
When we baptize a person, I always try to make it clear that in my own view of God, this great love for each of us is totally unconditional. God does not love us more, or differently, as a result of our being baptized. We are loved, always.
I can remember reading the baptismal record book of the rural Maritime pastoral charge where I was sent after being ordained. There were an extraordinary number of home “christenings”. I learned that most of these babies had been born at home, and that care was taken to see them baptized as soon as possible, in case they did not survive their first few weeks. In some cases, the minister saw these babies and their mothers before the doctor did.
Baptism was seen by some as a kind of “insurance policy”, or mystical veil that would protect the child. If the unthinkable did occur, and the infant died, then the family held on to the sacramental reassurance that their child was heaven-bound. I heard some tragic stories, passed down in family lore, of babies buried in their christening gowns.
When I did clinical training as a hospital chaplain, there was an early morning when I was called to the neo-natal intensive care unit. I met with a couple whose new-born son was about to undergo heart surgery. If this little one had not been tethered to his tiny bed by all the tubes and monitor leads, I could have held him in one hand. His parents had placed a gold St. Christopher medal beside him, and they asked me to bless the medal.
Even though I do not come from a tradition that blesses religious medals, on that day, I did. We prayed for Michael, for his family, and for those who were helping him. I asked God to bless the medal. I baptized Michael. Many hours later I visited Michael’s family, who were celebrating that the surgeons had successfully mended the hole in his tiny heart.