This story starts with some background: our pastor was quite ill a year or so ago. We had a substitute priest with us for about six months. He was a priest from Nigeria – Fr. Thomas is his name. Working with him as I did, I learned a bit about ministry in Africa. I enjoyed listening to his stories and experiences.
I’m told that in Nigeria, when a child is baptized – there is one thing that everyone (and the child) can count on. They get lots of rice to eat. Rice is associated with baptism – and if someone hears about the Church and its baptismal rites – they might mistake what is being said for BAPTISMAL RICE. As a result, a baptism dress, or baptismal garment is sometimes referred to as a rice dress. Though the connection between baptism and rice is altogether accidental, one can utilize it as a memory aid.
Well – the morning of the day that I’m writing this column – the pastor asked me if I was free to do a baptism at 1pm. I said an enthusiastic ‘YES’ because I love baptisms. They are one of the ministries that a deacon can do – and I love – absolutely love children and families.
Pastor gave me the name of the family but it didn’t ring a bell with me. It turned out to be an 8 year old girl named Hailey. She is… she was so absolutely beautiful. The parents bought her a white gown and veil. She was a beautiful gift from God. And she was most happy to be doing this.
We opened with a blessing and went right into two readings – one of which I had the mother read to us. It was from Ezekiel – and it was about God removing our stony hearts and replacing them with hearts open to Him. He would use water to sprinkle his people and cleanse them from their sin. I read from the Gospel – and it was about Jesus being baptized by St. John. After the Gospel, I did a short homily which brings me to the subject of RICE.
The reality of the meaning of baptism can be found in the four letters of the word RICE. “R” stands for Rebirth. Scripture tells us that in baptism we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit. We are cleansed from original sin and become sons and daughters of God in a special way.
“I” stands for Initiation. At baptism we are initiated or admitted into full membership in the church. Even when a baptized person is a baby or very young child, the community welcomes the baptized as a new member. And the ‘C’ of rice reminds of Consecration. In baptism we consecrate and dedicate ourselves to seek and to spread the kingdom of God. We commit ourselves to be servants of God, to do God’s will and serve God with our whole lives. That’s where parents and godparents come in for young people. And the “E” of rice is for Empowerment. At baptism special graces come to us to help strengthen us for our journey through life. In conclusion, I told the folks that we are Christian by both baptism and discipleship. We can’t be saved by baptism alone – we need to take our faith practice out into the world – and nourish it by returning to Church.
And then, I baptized Hailey – she was so willing to lean her head back (we took off the veil) and I made the sign of the cross with flowing water after we had done other sacramental signs and activities done in the baptism liturgy. There are two times when I become a little bit emotional doing a baptism. The first is near the beginning of baptism when I get to say these words, “Hailey, the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name, I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of His Cross.
I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents and godparents to do the same.” It chokes me up to think that I, a sinful, broken deacon can claim anyone for Christ. Isn’t that awesome?
In these liturgies, the other time I can get emotional is when I actually pour the water over the forehead of the infant or young person. And so this morning, I was able to say, “Hailey, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
This morning – I made a Christian. I wish you were there. It was so special. And they were going to go to a cake and punch reception after. I’m told the cake was chocolate – I hope Hailey saved me a piece!
Copyright 2009 Deacon Tom Fox