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Lent can lead us to the light
pastor corner

Rev. Dr. Devin Strong

Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church

This was no ordinary baptism. This was the baptism of James Walter Fitzgerald III, whose great grandfather who founded St. Paul’s, for goodness’ sake, so the Assistant Pastor, who was to do the baptism, was just a tad nervous. 

All of the patriarchs and matriarchs were there in their dark suits and flowered dresses and the place was packed. Now the Assistant Pastor was also the father of a six-year-old boy, and this Sunday the boy’s mother was not well so she stayed home. A teenager in the congregation volunteered to take the boy down the street to a small convenience store where she bought him a large bottle of Pepsi to keep him happy. The two returned just in time for the baptism. The Assistant Pastor never saw his son moving slowly up the side aisle. He didn’t see his son standing at his side shaking the bottle of Pepsi with his finger covering the top of it. But just as he was about to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Assistant Pastor did see a brown stream shooting up on to the service book, onto the white gloves of Mrs. Fitzgerald, and onto the 100-year-old baptismal gown worn by James Walter Fitzgerald III. Now, the Fitzgeralds are fine people as are the good folks of St. Paul’s. That is why the Assistant Pastor is still the Assistant Pastor. But that morning all the people of St. Paul’s grew a bit in the understanding of Christian baptism. Accepting children into the Kingdom of God does not mean simply standing in a nice outfit on a sunny day. It also means loving them when they spray Pepsi all over you.

A fun story about the mishaps of baptism helps lighten the mood during the dark and serious season of Lent. For the liturgical churches that observe the season, Lent is often a somber time. We preachers talk a lot about confession, repentance, and Jesus’ suffering, but it wasn’t always so. In the early days of the church, Lent was a time of education for the new believers to prepare themselves for baptism on Easter Sunday. It’s not hard to imagine how education morphed into self-reflection, morphed into repentance, morphed into self-denial, but I worry that what began as a season of forward-looking hope now carries too many overtones of sadness, even despair. Numbers matter. The 40 days of Lent are modeled after the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his own baptism, and his 40 days in the wilderness remind believers of the 40 years that God’s people spent wandering in the wilderness on their way to becoming a nation. No one would describe these biblical events as “fun,” and God’s people surely made plenty of mistakes along the way. But for both Jesus and the people, wilderness time was formative, meaningful. It was a time of real closeness to the Father.

The point is that God leads us relentlessly toward life. Even the darkest days and the darkest seasons are always one step closer to the light. This is why I say look for the hope in Lent; look for the movement; look for the transformation, because God is constantly working in the larger world and in you. Lent leads to Easter. Most of all let’s celebrate with those who will soon be baptized.

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