One year ago today, we baptized S. One, two, three plunges of a wriggling baby into the waters of new life. Not just a symbolic act, but a sacramental transformation that forever changed his relationship to us, to the church, to God.
Today I’ve been reflecting on what it means to live out a sacrament. I love the idea of the “third moment” of sacraments. The first moment is the preparation (the baptism class, the marriage prep), the second moment is the celebration (the dunking in water, the giving of vows), and the third moment is the living out of the sacrament (as the newly baptized or the newly married). The third moment involves the individual’s ongoing relationship with God as well as the community’s ongoing relationship with the individual.
When I speak to people about young adult ministry, I encourage them to consider how their parishes and congregations live out the third moment of sacraments like baptism or marriage. Some parishes have sponsor couples for marriage or baptism that keep in touch with the newlyweds or new parents throughout the next year or two, calling them at several points to hear how things are going and invite them to get involved in the life of the congregation. Other churches host pot-luck gatherings for all the couples who have been married or parents who have brought their children to be baptized in the past year. It’s a chance to reconnect, share their stories, and meet others in the same stage of life.
More importantly, I believe ministers need to help people live out the third moment of sacraments through a growing relationship with God. The sacrament is the invitation to journey one step deeper into what it means to follow Christ and to live a life of faith.
Sacramental theology teaches us that sacraments are not simply magical “pipelines” of grace from God or singular moments that leave “indelible marks” on our souls. Through sacraments we encounter the living God, and our relationship with God and with the church is forever changed.
Sacraments are about relationships. We are baptized, and we become part of the fellowship of believers. We receive communion, and we are invited to share at Christ’s table. We marry, and we enter into a covenant of commitment with our spouse and with God. Life is never the same.
Living out the third moment of a sacrament like baptism involves small steps. Each Sunday we take S back to the church where he was baptized. We bless him with holy water from the same font, and I remind him that this pool of water was where he began as a follower of Christ. We pray with him when he wakes, when he eats, and when he sleeps, so that he will come to learn the rhythms of a life of prayer.
We also live out the third moment of his baptism by involving him more and more with the life of the Christian community into which he entered one year ago today. We build friendships in our parish. We get involved with church committees and serve as liturgical ministers. We try to give back to the community that nurtures us, and we try to model for S what it will mean for him to grow into the church.
Today we celebrated his baptismal anniversary by lighting his baptismal candle and telling the story of his sacrament. We took a long family walk in the warm fall evening. We talked about ways we will continue to celebrate his baptismal day as he gets older: with a special dessert, with a visit to the church to see the baptismal font, with special prayers.
I found this prayer online with no attribution to the author, so please let me know if someone discovers its origin. A beautiful way to celebrate the third moment of a baptism!
Baptism Anniversary Prayer
Remember this, Name.
You have been washed
In the saving waters of baptism
And anointed with holy oil.
Place on your head and in your heart
The sign of the cross of salvation.
Trace the sign of the cross on the child’s head and heart.
You created all the people of the world,
And you know each of us by name.
We thank you for N.,
Who celebrates the anniversary of her baptism.
Bless her with your love and friendship
That she may grow in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.
May she love her family always
And be ever faithful to her friends.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Place your hands on the child’s head or shoulders.
May God, in whose presence our ancestors walked, bless you.
May God, who has been your shepherd from birth until now, keep you.
May God, who saves you from all harm, give you peace.