Baptism, Communion, and Mountain Biking
Recently one of my loyal UBFM associates came to me and asked if I would baptize him. Naturally, I affirmed but I have to say I was little shocked. Shocked primarily because I have never been approached with that question. This would actually my inaugural baptism. I’m not including those performed in seminary classes on my niece’s dolls. But since being ordained, this would be my foundational. At any rate, the associate told me that he was involved in church and believed in Christ; he’s already accepted Christ into his life. But there was never a baptism involved and it was something he truly wanted. My first thought was, “Well you’re a Christian; is it necessary?” After a quick thought, though, I recognized the significance in the ritual. It is the spiritual experience that allows the Christian to grow in faith. It is significant in the profession of faith and it makes the experience more memorable for the participant and those present. He told me he wanted it done outdoors, perhaps in a lake or a river. Here in Memphis we recognize and represent the Mississippi River quite well but many of us have a closer connection to the Wolf River. We spend a lot of time on the Wolf River trail system hiking, running, and biking. Many of us spend time at various locations around Shelby Farms. This is a large agriculture park beside the river. It is a place where local outdoor enthusiasts enjoy time off. It is something of a local refuge for.
So, the Wolf River it is and I knew just the place. There is a small beach in between the river and the Wolf Trail, which is parallel to the river. It appeared to be the best location. Since many of the people present were cyclists (including the one being baptized) I decided to coordinate a trail ride following the sacrament. Speaking of sacrament, the baptism was taking place on the first Sunday of the month (many Christian traditions take communion on the first Sunday of the month) why don’t we break bread together as well? So, the first Baptism, Communion, and Mountain Bike Sunday was on the calendar.
A question that came to me while planning this was the baptism method. The person being baptized wanted to be submersed. In my Christian tradition, we are accustomed to sprinkling or pouring water over the person. The significance is a little dissimilar than submersion. Pouring signifies the “pouring of the Holy Spirit on to one’s life” or “the baptism of the Holy Spirit in one’s life”. Submersion has a very similar meaning but it signifies the “washing away of an old life and the putting on of a new one”. Regardless of the method, it is a witness of God’s initiative to claim a person in Christ, forgive their sins, grant them grace, shape and order their lives through the work of the Holy Spirit, and set them apart for service. This is all done with the element of water. And, the significance in this element makes it truly genuine.
Water is something we tend to take for granted. It is a very interesting element. The majority of the planet is made of water. The majority of the body is made of water. Not enough water can kill us but in certain situations too much can procure our lives as well. We consume water; most recipes contain it. It cleanses us. In some way or another we are surrounded by water. Water was one of God’s first creations. With that being said it is a work of art. God painted it into the world; God whispered it into existence.
During this sacrament I wanted to bring both traditions together by means of God’s artistic expression. I wanted to use water to celebrate and signify a person’s faith in Jesus Christ. It is said that words cannot express everything; it takes a work of art to project emotion. I can tell you a story but sometimes you just get it better through a song, poetry, or a painting.
And, that we did. The event was successful. A small group of family and friends walked down to the river, I presented a short homily, we witnessed a baptism, a communion service was presented, and then we went mountain biking. While witnessing the two sacraments there were two little girls running around playing in the water watching their daddy profess his faith in Christ. This enhanced the experience. Two of God’s little children celebrating and playing while a host of angles were doing the same. God’s presence was very apparent.