May 09, 2012

singing our baptism

as a worship planner, I strive to connect as much of the Christian life as possible over an extended period of time.  it's impossible to connect the full scope of Christian living on a week in, week out basis, so I have to find ways to highlight these themes over time so that a comprehensive expression is achieved.  the weekly rhythm of worship at Grace outlines the story of the Gospel—praise, renewal, commitment—and I pick scriptures, prayers, and songs that lend themselves logically to that gospel flow.

one example of this at work is the list of songs I use during the Lord's Supper.  I try to use songs that allow for both a variety of images and of expressions of what Communion means in the Christian Life: from reflecting on the cross to the wedding feast of the Lamb, and not just New Testament images but also Old Testament images.  these songs include explicit references to communion—City Hymns' "The Feast," Keith Getty's "Behold The Lamb"—and indirect references to feasting—Indelible Grace's "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah"—as well as meditating on the beauty of Christ—David Hampton's "Jesus I Am Resting."  since the Lord's Supper is served weekly at Grace, it is easier to cover a variety of songs and imagery than if it was served less often.

so when a Sunday comes that we have a baptism, I am presented with a slight difficulty since we have only 6-8 baptism Sundays in a year.  while many Protestant and Evangelical hymns and songs deal with communion explicitly, there are far fewer that deal with Baptism.  

do I believe that the sacrament of baptism is only effective when we sing a song about what we are doing? no, I believe that baptism itself is an effective image of the work of washing and filling of the Spirit.  but two things push me toward incorporating a regular set of baptism songs:

  1. we live in an image and symbol driven world – the more biblical images that we can implant in a worshiper's vocabulary will allow them to express their faith in different seasons of life.  images of baptism are no less important than images of thanksgiving or repentance.  just as with Communion, I believe that it's important to incorporate the Old Testament connections with baptism (when was the last time you heard a song about circumcision?).  we do sing songs that reflect on the Covenant-Making and -Keeping God, which is why we sing "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go" at most of our baptism services at Grace ("I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain...").
  2. we need to reencounter our own baptism on a regular basis – in the same way as justification, baptism is not an event that has a one-time significance.  rather, it is a truth that points back to the plan of the Father when calling us as his children for all eternity ("Father Long Before Creation"), the work of the Son in his life, death, and resurrection, thus making our call as God's children complete ("Let Us Love And Sing And Wonder"), and the seal of the Spirit which makes the plan of the Father and the work of the Son effective in the life of faith in the heart of the believer ("Come Down O Love Divine").*  while important for all Christians, "remembering your baptism" is all the more important for those who were baptized as infants and have at best a photograph that allows them to remember the act of public baptism that took place so many years before.

every Sunday that we have a baptism, we are called to reflect upon our own baptism, but I believe we should remember our baptism more often than that.  by setting apart songs that we use in baptism liturgies, the images of baptism will hopefully be recalled to the mind/heart when they are incorporated into a liturgy without the sacrament itself being performed.

*This Trinitarian observation on Baptism is thanks to James B. Torrance's Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace
1. I would be remiss to post about baptism and not include the text of the baptismal prayer from the French Reformed Church:
"Little child, for you Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered.  For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary.  For you he uttered the cry "It is finished!"  For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes—for you, little child, even though you do not know it.  But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true.  'We love him, because he first loved us.'"
This was recently turned into a board book called "At Your Baptism" by the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship.
2. The songs mentioned above are just a start of a list that can and should be a lot longer.  Please feel free to post other ideas here, and I will try to include a postscript at a later date with my own updated list.


Mary Rose Jensen said...

Thanks for this. I had not heard of the baptismal prayer of the French Reformed Church. It is beautiful. I offer a hymn that is somewhat along the same lines:
(Music is available at no cost on Score Exchange)

Words and music by Mary Rose Jensen

Covenant child, water comes as a sign
Of the washing and cleansing renewing your mind.
Covenant child, you are claimed as God's own.
You are one of His people. His church is your home.

Covenant child, you are here by God’s grace,
By the work of our Savior, Who died in your place.
Covenant child, you are living in Christ.
Buried with Him in suffering, with Him you will rise

Covenant child, we are praying for you.
May you stay close to Jesus in all that you do.
Covenant child, grow strong in the faith.
Seek after God's wisdom and walk in His way.

Words and music © 1991 (verse 2 © 1999) Garden Rose Music
P.O. Box 16040, Sugar Land, TX 77496 800-746-4476
CCLI # 2494582

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