” For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.”
The photo above is of the baptismal font in our sanctuary. It stands centrally in the aisle and greets worshipers as they enter. Seeing it reminds of me of an event from years ago.
I was visiting a friend who had just started his ministry in a new congregation. While I was there he asked it I would help him with a project. With toolbox in hand he took me to a closet located near the altar at the side of the sanctuary. He opened the door to reveal a wooden baptismal font on wheels. An hour later we had removed the wheels and permanently attached the font to the floor just inside the entrance to the sanctuary.
The explosive language of Paul in the text above is not language that wonders at a God we can’t figure out. It is the language that marvels, wonders at the unfathomable grace of God that has not given up on this tiny world. To go a step further, it is the language of one for whom the story of Jesus, His cross and resurrection, have become defining. For not only has God not given up on this world, in Jesus He has committed Himself to this world, in justice and mercy, when there is no obligation for Him to do so.
The Gospel of Jesus, mediated through the word and sacraments, bring us into the story of God. Sacraments are the living events through which God continually comes to us and keeps us in His grace, shapes us and conforms us to the death and new life of the cross and resurrection. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not ambiguous events, shifting sands. The sacraments are events in real time, part of the actual story, history of God’s people, where we are encountered by God’s faithfulness, through which God creates trust by extending His mercy and grace.
My friend was absolutely right in reaffirming baptism as a symbol of permanence, and to locate that symbol in a place where the worshiping community could not push baptism into a closet. Now, they would come face to face with baptism every time they gathered. They would come face to face with an unbuffered view of the self and God in the light of the cross.
As you come and go from worship, the font stands as a reminder of the certainty of God’s judgment on sin and the certainty of God’s grace and mercy. The sacrament of baptism is not a symbol, an ambiguous spiritualizing of God. Baptism is a tangible, on going God-event in which He commits Himself to the death of your old self and the bringing to life of the new you in Christ.
A movable font is symbolic of how we can make destructive even the story of Jesus. For such a practice presents us with baptism as a perfunctory ritual, removes it from it’s central place in worship, in effect rendering ambiguous and uncertain the utterly reliable certainty of God’s grace. It becomes a symbol of our ambivalence about baptism, about God, about ourselves.
On the other hand, the immovable font, the place of grace, plants God’s decision for us firmly in our midst as a worshiping community. It states clearly that grace comes before faith. It makes clear that the Church is not first and foremost a community of faith but a community of grace. For, the great story of Jesus is the story of God’s faithfulness to a disobedient, faithless, violent and corrupt world. No wonder Paul marvels at the “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God”. For He owes us nothing. Yet, in Christ Jesus, He has given us everything. This is the utterly gracious, reliable and unshakable promise of your baptism.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”