Keeping the Baptismal Font Filled

by jpserrano on November 1, 2012 · 0 comments

Where did the water go?

As a person who goes into the sanctuary almost daily I find it odd when I find the Baptismal font empty.  In some congregations the baptismal font is filled before the Sunday service and emptied afterward. I am not sure why some Altar Guilds do this.

I think that I can make a case that the Baptismal font should always have water in it (Lent is not exception to this, but I won’t get into that).

Sacred Space

All elements of worship and its space communicates something.  High arching cathedral’s and converted mall worship churches both communicate messages through their space that are both intentional and unintentional. I am not assigning value judgements to either, only making the point that space tells part of the story of a congregation.

Tangent: I know of several churches who purposefully meet in strip malls in order to be where the people are and because they want the mission of their church not to be tied down by a mortgage. I get that, I respect that, but its not me.  I prefer the art of a cathedral and the artistry of that kind of space.  I have seen churches that meet in warehouses bring a smilier kind of ineffability of the divine that happen in cathedrals through projecting icons, generous use of candles, drapes and the like; it can be done in both settings, yet I still prefer the cathedral.

Lutherans are unapologetically people of sacrament.  We center our spirituality on the Word spoken over physical elements-water, bread, wine. That is why for communion The Table is front and center in the church.  Even when the table was against the east wall it was still the central focal point of worship.

Baptismal fonts on the other hand used to be placed between the Narthex (reception area) and the Nave (the place where the pews are).  They were put there because baptism was the rite through which people became members of the Church.  So, one could not pass the font both literally and sacramentally before being able to sit in the pews.

Baptism is kind of a big deal and its element (the water) is an ever present reminder of it.

What is Baptism?

Even though we should have water ever present baptism is more than just water, but water with a promise attached.

Baptism is “water placed in the setting of God’s Word and commandment and made holy by them.  It is nothing else than God’s water, not that the water itself is nobler than any other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it.”

It is an extension of the Word.  A record of Jesus’ commandment is given in scripture.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19).  Jesus commanded this act not simply as a sign, but as an imparting of the Word.  Baptism is more than a confirmation of an outward sign of an inward reality; it is a transformative act by which a person is claimed by God and brought from death to life.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4)

A transformation occurs, by which the Old Adam is killed in the water and the New Adam is brought up.  The promise attached to baptism brings, “Victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sins, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts” (BOC).

This work is not the work of humans but the work of God.  “To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God himself. Although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own act” (BOC).  When baptizing, the pastor acts on God’s authority and commandment, not her own.

Because of this, there is only one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; meaning that it is only done once.  Since the external Word gives faith, the age of the recipient is not an issue.  The baptism of children is warranted because faith is imparted on the child, with Word and water, and the community of believers commits to continuing the work of imparting the Word (which creates faith).  The faith of the community receives baptism on behalf of the child.  However, for adults, the person receives baptism in faith after hearing the proclaimed Word.  One could not know to receive baptism unless they first heard the Good News.  Baptism is an extension of the Word because it imparts on the recipient a specific element of the Gospel message—the forgiveness of sins.

Why keep the font filled

Baptism is central to Lutheran spirituality for the above reasons.
A dry font unintentionally gives the impression that this specific space in worship is only used at Easter Vigil or sporadically through the year.  I think it conveys that baptism is a one and done kind of act that we don’t need to really focus on.
A dry font doest allow the font to be a central place in worship because it is used infrequently.  When it goes unused people forget about it and begin to not notice it until the next baptism.  A dry font is not a reminder of one’s baptism, it a piece of furniture that is in the way.
A filled font tells the story of the church through the ages.  When a visitor to the church during the week dips their hand in that water they remember the act by which they were made part of the Body of Christ.  It reminds people of what God promises to them and that they are forgiven of their sins on the account of Christ.
A filled font gives allows people a physical means through which to remember their baptism and be consoled of their sin.  I like to dip my hand in the font and make the sign of the cross letting the water drip down my forehead.
Lastly, a font full of water is a reminder that the Church is ready to baptize at a moments notice people who have heard the Word and may ask, “Here is some water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?” (Acts 8). If only sermons in Lutheran congregations evoked that kind of conversation from unbelievers!
Go forth fill your fonts.

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