Making Promises

Do we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ promise to guide and nurture them by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and to follow Christ and to be a faithful member of Christ’s church?

The question is deceptively complex. Sometimes I wonder if we’re not all so distracted by the antics of the soon-to-be baptized, that we gloss over the promise we are making. After all, at every baptism, the congregation steps outside of itself. Not only do we speak for Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, but we speak for the “capital C” Church, for all Christians in all times and in all places. Not only do we promise to guide and nurture a child, but we promise to do so in our words and actions, with love and prayer. It’s a complicated question and a very quick answer: “We do.”

Standing at the front of the church, your voices tend to echo a little. Reverberating off the stone and wood, you make quite an impression. It’s as though our individual agreements grow exponentially in community. I wish I could hold that moment as your voices carry forward, capture it and tuck it away for parents and children to go back to in the years to come. Everyone has a moment when we need to remember that a community chose us.

The question we answer includes plenty of expectations placed upon us as a congregation. It demands that we live faithfully as an example, that we will encourage these children and one another in our faith and as members of Christ’s body. It does not, however, ask anything of the child. It doesn’t include a caveat that the promise is only valid if a certain GPA is maintained or they have perfect attendance or a clean record. It doesn’t place a timeframe on the promise - that the child will be a “faithful member no later than his 14th birthday.” There is no fine print, no exit clause, no secret veto. We make a promise, no exceptions needed.

In the French Baptism statement, which is sometimes said to the child after a Baptism, there is a short line, “Today you taught us that we love because God first loved us.” Maybe we need to answer the question as much as the family needs to hear it. Perhaps our promise is actually part of the lesson Baptism provides. When we say “we do,” we welcome a child, just as God does and just as God welcomes us. It’s a moment when we show one another that we understand the Gospel promise that God’s love extends to us before we can fully understand it. It’s a moment when we reflect back that holy love showing God that we’re beginning to comprehend the commandment, “Love one another.”  

Whether we fully understand it or not, we too were received as part of this family in an outpouring of love. Love spoken without caveat or condition. What a gift to be there on Sunday morning when the Elder asks the congregation to make our promise: without caveat or condition, we will join with the voices of saints from every time and place promising to love, nurture and guide one another with a resounding, “We do.”