“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)
I got baptized the other day. I thought about this passage leading up to the event. Let me back up a bit more—three days or so. I have a friend and my friend and I were scheduled to hang as is our weekly wont. I hadn't seen him in about a week-and-a-half and I was totes looking forward to it. Dylan had been gone to Texas (the state of my birth) with his wife Carissa a week prior and I missed them much. But alas, he texted me in the morning and said he had come down with what she had on the trip and was unable to make it, furthering the time in between the last time we'd fellowshipped and also shoring up the already short interstice between now and the time he and his wife were moving to Texas for good. And so I wasn't sure what to do with myself. I didn't really have any pressing thing and even though I'd already bought some morning coffee, I felt led to go across town to a different (and new) coffee shop to get another. What can I say? I like my morning Americano. I walk in and order and then step aside to the bar to await my cup. Feeling a somewhat playful mood overtake me, I elect to crane my neck around the pillar to see who happens to sit so studious behind their laptop. Lo and behold, it's one of my friends, Jeremy, a worship leader from a local church. And so I lean back around and grab my now ready coffee and doctor it up. After all this, after my coffee is perfect, I approach Jeremy and bring him up to the surface. He tells me through the conversation that God had had me on his heart not five minutes before I accosted him. This would have been prior to the aforementioned “playful mood” and around the time that I walked in. It would account for the time it took for him to—like, seven seconds—focus in on me as I stood by his table waiting for him to say “Hi.” back. And so we talked for about an hour. One of the things that stood out in our conversation was “baptism”. I had mentioned some of those things I felt I hadn't yet accomplished in my life. Thirty seems old to me—a definite watershed. But to anyone looking on and who themselves is over a certain age, thirty's still “young”. But baptism. It hadn't yet happened for me. I mean, doesn't Jesus say it needs to be done? Simple as that, right? Okay then. Thousands of years of debate (and nearly as many denominations) as to the why and the how and even the need at all does nothing to silence this simplest of commands.
“Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:4-5)
The next day at work I run into Trevor, the worship leader of the church I currently attend. I started going back there after having met a woman who teaches at the church's preschool. My reintroduction to Naz (Medford's First Church of the Nazarene) felt like something new in spite of still knowing so many of the people I saw in the sanctuary. Trevor was hanging out with Shawn, the church's youth pastor. I asked Trevor if they did baptisms on Saturdays—as I am unable to attend on Sunday mornings due to work—and he said sure. Shawn pointed out that I'd need to schedule it at least a day in advance but that it could be done. He also said that he'd be out of town for two weeks after the coming Saturday and if I wanted him to do it, again, I'd need to schedule it. Then the subtle procrastination began to set in.
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:35-37, emphasis mine)
When the eunuch asks “what doth hinder me to be baptized”, he seems to be expressing a deep desire to want to get it done. Not so much to get it out of the way but to be obedient. I can tell you that while I always knew the day would come, I wondered why I never felt the inward compelling to do so. I'd have to say that it was because the Lord knew it wasn't the right time. Some people get sprinkled with water at their christening and then call it good for the rest of their life. Others are baptized as children with eyes, maybe not wide open, but open enough. And then there are those (I would say I fall into this category) who endeavor to walk with the Lord throughout their day and their life and for whatever reason never got around to doing it. There's a different story for everyone and no one can say that any of them is wrong. It's so highly personal as to be between God and them and yet it's something done (as I heard repeated ad nauseam throughout the event) “as an outward sign of inward devotion”—something done for everyone to see.
“Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?” (John 3:9)
I love the exasperation in Nicodemus' voice. Having just heard a bunch of stuff that ran counter to everything he'd ever known, all he can manage is “I don't understand.” That's okay. You don't really have to understand it to get it done.
The night of the event, I walk down the center aisle before the service to meet with Shawn and to find out the order of operations. I see Shawn on stage milling about with several members of the band and also Pastor Kevin. Shawn tells me that he and Kevin had been talking and as I knew Kevin better, it would be better if he were the one to perform the baptism. Okay. So I go change into my swim trunks and sit in the first pew while the service starts. After the first song, I was told, we'd exit through to the side of the sanctuary. Kevin and I make our way around back and through this little, inconspicuous door and up a tiny staircase that opens onto a baptismal tank filled with warm water. He and I talk for a bit, discussing all of the events I've encountered since attending the church nearly five years ago. Divorce, hospital visits, graduation. Many things under the sun. The first song ends and the second one begins. Our conversation comes to a close and I wade in. There's a large window looking out on the sanctuary filled with people. Kevin asks me the essentials: “Do I love Jesus with all my heart and do I know He's my Lord and Savior?” “Yes. Yes absolutely.” I answer. The lights are hot and the crowd looks on intently. I lay my arms across my chest and he says “I hereby baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”. He lays me down gently and for a brief moment—my eyes are closed—everything is dark and silent. The water rushes in to my ears and it's like I'm in a womb awaiting birth. He then grabs me by the wrist and pulls me up. The crowd erupts and I give a little sheepish wave. It's is finished.