I recently had the pleasure of leading a baptismal service in which the parents of the child who was baptized asked if I might include a passage of scripture that had also been read at their wedding a few years before. Since that request sounded not only reasonable but also rather sweet, I quickly and easily agreed; but later I was quite surprised to learn that the reading in question came from the Old Testament Song of Solomon:
“My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.’”
Song of Solomon 2:10-13 (ESV)
A beautiful and poetic piece of scripture, to be sure; but I have to confess that my first response was to wonder what, if anything at all, this particular love song has to do with an infant baptism!
Indeed, the Song of Solomon (or “Song of Songs,” as it is sometimes known) has long been the source of a great deal of debate both spirited and spiritual; even when one rightly considers the rich and vivid imagery of two lovers in love as an allegory of God’s utter devotion to his people. To say the least, this is one bit of sacred text that even given our modern sensibilities still tends to bring forth a blush; so to extend this same metaphor to something as utterly innocent as the christening of a wiggly toddler might well be stretching things a bit! However, the more I thought about it the more that this particular excerpt made sense to me in the context of what I often refer to as a “Sacrament of Welcome,” our Christian baptism that is an “outward and visible sign of the grace of God” in our life and living.
After all, what better parable for love, marriage, family and indeed, life itself, can there be than that of a remarkable journey to a wondrous new place filled with unending beauty and life bursting forth! And just as two people in love will inevitably find themselves in something akin to Solomon’s own incredible experience of springtime and singing, so the arrival of children only increases a deep sense of life’s fragrant blossoming that comes about by God’s own creative and loving hand. Of course, anyone who’s been there can tell you that the journey itself can often be long, sometimes arduous and always full of surprises; but just as certainly there are passages along that way that will bring unparalleled joy. And the best part is that while over time the vistas before us might change, by God’s power, grace and abiding presence the journey – and its wonder – never truly ends! This is the sure and certain promise of our baptism in Jesus Christ; the assurance that in all things “we too might walk in newness of life.”
I was reminded of this truth once again this past weekend as the Lowry family came together to celebrate another great passage of life’s journey: that of our youngest son Zachary’s graduation from college and the beginning of a career in forest management. As you can imagine, this was an event tinged with both hearty laughter and a few tears, and wholly imbued with truly precious memories forged over the course of a still relatively short lifetime; and so, there has most certainly been some nostalgia involved! Indeed, more than once over these past few days, I’ve lingered long at the recollection of holding this tiny infant in my arms who’s now become this young man full of verve and passion (not to mention a sheer and unyielding determination that’s only matched by the level of his conviction); and I’ve marveled at the amazing journey of his life that’s taken him from there to here. But even more amazing is that far from being over, this journey is only now starting in earnest; and that the many wonders he’s already experienced on the way can only pale in comparison to what lay ahead. How that all unfolds for Zach will be an exciting thing to watch; but the true blessing will come in witnessing the many unique and wonderful ways that God’s Spirit will move in and through his life as it happens.
Actually, it seems to me that as we welcomed that little one into the family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism, praying together as family and friends for his “growth into full Christian faith and discipleship” as his own young life unfolds, we could not have wished for anything better for him than that.
So come away… for this wonderful, amazing and miraculous journey of life and faith is just beginning.
c,2016 Rev. Michael W. Lowry