Sometimes you just stumble into brilliance. Or at least the few times brilliance has happened to me, that is what happened! One of the most powerful events in the life of our middle school families happened almost by accident. But let’s skip over the clueless part and how we got there. I’ll just share briefly what has become a really special time for families in our church. Spoiler alert: theology, ritual and sacraments ahead.
On Palm Sunday each year for decades now, we have held a special infant baptism service mid-afternoon. Friends, relatives and church family attend this service. In our context of multiple worship services and a large congregation, this service has an intimate feel. At one point in the liturgy, the fathers walk throughout the congregation holding out their infant son or daughter to be viewed closely by those who have just promised to “so order their lives after the example of Christ that, surrounded by steadfast love,” that these children “may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.”
A few years ago we added the 6th graders and their families as a part of the afternoon. In their confirmation class in the weeks prior to Palm Sunday we talk about baptism. We explain that it is an act of God through the grace offered by our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We discuss how during infant baptism both parents and the church declare their faith, trust in God’s grace, and remember together how God comes to us before we are even aware of Him. We introduce confirmation as the opportunity for the students to appropriate the faith of the church and their parents as their own. We teach that this is an opportunity involves repentance from sin, surrender and death to the sinful self, putting all our trust in the saving grace offered us by faith through Jesus Christ, and receiving new life and the commission to go and make disciples of all nations.
Then on Palm Sunday, 6th grade students and families get to revisit infant baptism in a new role. Suddenly they are not the direct recipients of grace, but are committing to become a means of grace for others. Their own baptism and impending confirmation comes to life. Our Senior Minister is intentional in connecting the dots for young families just beginning as well as our 6th graders. It’s powerful.
After the service, everyone goes downstairs for a reception except the 6th graders and families. They gather together in the front pews and our Senior Minister talks to us about infant baptism and answers the student’s questions. Then he invites them to ask any other question they might have for him. The questions are always unexpected and usually contain some treasures! They range from deep theology to sports to wardrobe to living life in the middle school.
After the questions, our Senior Minister gives a short explanation of how the sacrament of baptism is our one-time doorway into a grace-filled covenant relationship and identity while the sacrament of communion is our weekly participation in His grace. As in baptism, we do not participate because we deserve it or have earned it, we participate because He has invited us. And so we accept the invitation, turn from our sin and trust fresh in His grace. And we have communion together, just two weeks before the students will choose for themselves and publicly announce their intention by grace to follow Jesus with their whole heart for a lifetime.