Baptism of Our Lord Sunday
January 13, 2013
Recently, in my role as a hospice chaplain, I baptized a beautiful little three-month old baby girl, as she was being held in the arms of her mother in their home. The baby was terminally ill, and few days later she went to heaven.
When I baptized her, she was hooked up to a feeding tube and oxygen and monitors — wires and tubes everywhere. The warm water flowing from my hand over her little head seemed to calm her. It made her dark hair curl, and when I dried it, it stuck out everywhere. When I moved to the sofa behind her and said, “Little girl, your hair looks like Bozo!” the nurse who had taken her in her arms said the baby smiled just then.
I told mom and dad that in our church, after we baptize a baby, the pastor takes the child in his arms and parades her down the aisle, saying, “Welcome your new little sister to God’s family,” and we cheer. But the only audience this day was the baby’s two-year old brother, and he was too busy running around to notice the whole affair. Mom and Dad themselves were preoccupied by the fact that their newborn wasn’t faring too well and that the end might be near. The “sanctuary” lacked a sense of celebration that day.
However, I reminded the parents of their act of faith when I led the funeral service a week later. I shared with them why I believe the little baby lying in front of us in her pink dress in the baby casket is safe with God, and why we can have peace that she is now being cared for in her heavenly home.
First, I said, Jesus always welcomed children, took them into his arms, and blessed them. Always. Even when his friends tried to shoo the little ones away so they wouldn’t interrupt the “important” work Jesus was doing, the Savior would have none of that. He was all about the kids. I don’t know of a single instance when he turned them away. We can trust that Jesus welcomed this little girl, embraced her, and that she is living in his blessing today.
Second, I reminded mom and dad, you can have an even deeper sense of peace because you brought her to Jesus in faith and had her baptized. You committed her into God’s care. And it is the Bible that says, “But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.” (Titus 3:4-8)
I praised these young parents for loving their baby, for caring for her in difficult circumstances, for giving her a home in which she could live and die surrounded by love and support. I assured them, by the Good News of Jesus, that she is now home with God, safe and sound.
Father, into your hands, we commit her spirit.
9 thoughts on “The Font and the Tiny Casket”
I knew the Orthodox did Epiphany as both when the Wise Men got to Bethlehem and when Jesus was baptized, but I wasn’t aware that that construct worked in the western Church as well. It might be a combination of a Methodist upbringing (where the liturgical calender wasn’t quite as detailed) and an evangelical adulthood, but that’s new to me.
May I ask, is your fellowship Lutheran or Anglican?
I hope you can see that I tried to choose my words carefully when speaking to these parents and those in attendance at the funeral. I said, “You can have an even deeper sense of peace because you brought her to Jesus in faith and had her baptized. You committed her into God’s care.”
I do not believe that infants must be baptized in order to become heirs of salvation. God’s grace is big enough to take care of those who are unable to make use of the means of grace. However, in this case, the fact that these parents came in faith to access those means gave them an additional reason for assurance.
Baptism is God’s ordinary means of bringing the children of Christian parents into his family in the presence of the church. But there are a thousand extraordinary circumstances, and I believe God’s grace in the Gospel provides for those children that find themselves in those circumstances.
I hope that helps.
My understanding about the Eastern Orthodox folks is that babies (baptized or not) who die are with God. The Roman Catholic church has come out in the past couple of years saying things like “God knows best what to do about unbaptized children.” Which, I think (being Catholic) is their way of saying that “yes, all babies go to heaven but we can’t really say that because of our putting so much emphasis on baptism.” But, I could very well be wrong!
Chaplain Mike, this is just me showing my ignorance, I suppose, but couldn’t you have assured the little girl’s parents that she is now home with God, safe and sound, even if she had never been baptized? I guess I’m asking how long is a child innocent? Or is not even a baby innocent because every human is born in sin? Is there an “age of accountability”? What is that age?
I don’t mean to meddle, but I am curious. Why was water baptism necessary for a 3-month-old girl to enter heaven?
I don’t think I believe that, and I hope I am not a heretic.
Beautiful post, CM. May God Himself comfort those parents….
Amen. Thank you for sharing this, CM.
Let light perpetual shine upon her.