After all the Christmas gifting and celebrating and traveling, I got home to one more package: a box of … well, what are they?
I ordered them, so I actually already knew. But when I opened the box in the office, I asked folks what they were, and here’s what I heard: kitchen towels? receiving blankets? prayer shawls?
I loved all those answers. My answer, and the catalog answer at Amazon.com, is that they are those blankets that hospitals wrap newborns in in their first minutes of life, right after their first bath. Swaddling clothes.
I’ve had one of these blankets for a few years, given to me by a neonatal nurse when I was a hospital chaplain. I had held babies in these, including a baby who had died. I had seen parents envelope their tiny new children, hardly visible at all, except the blanket itself. I had come to think of the blankets as a sign of new life, a promise of something sacred, a symbol for me of hope and grace.
After I left the hospital, I used that receiving blanket as a table cloth for services of holy communion. With the plate and chalice in place, the arrangement was as good as any in reminding me that God is god of life and death, that the meal we share is a meal of life, often in the midst of death.
This Sunday at Woodside, we get to celebrate a really special thing: baptism. Liturgically, it is the Baptism of Jesus, and we’ll hear the story of Jesus and John at the Jordan River. In our own community, it is the baptism of Jenny, Dee, Alex and Melissa, new to Woodside, and being welcomed in a sacramental way to a life of following Jesus. We’ll also welcome Reneé to membership, already baptized.
I love baptisms. Love the symbolism, the ritual, the community, the blessing.
My own baptism was way long ago. I was about 4 months old, too young to remember, but I know the date, and I remember it each year – August 28, the feast day of St. Augustine, a powerful preacher; it was also the day in 1963 when another powerful preacher, Dr. King, proclaimed a dream on the national mall in Washington DC. I love remembering the date, the implications, the promise. I love the feeling of standing in the shadow of powerful prophets, of living in the vast “communion of saints,” of breathing in the Spirit of God, “ruah,” wind, breath. I love baptisms. And whether or not you remember your own, you and I share a life – the breath, the power, the promise, the community.
(If you do know the date of your own, please let me or Annie know. I write birthday cards, and would enjoy writing “new birth” anniversary cards instead.)
So, the special delivery. Hospital nursery blankets. And this Sunday, they will be swaddling clothes, receiving blankets, kitchen towels and prayer shawls. Three new sisters and a brother in faith will be symbolically bathed (from a small bowl in the sanctuary), then all five will be presented with a receiving blanket to remember this moment in their life of faith (and perhaps to dry their hair). Then, we will all share a communion meal, with a nursery blanket as a kitchen towel, a table cloth — a celebration of life in a community of faith.
Receiving blanket, as we welcome new members. Kitchen towel as we share a meal. Prayer shawl, as we renew our walk in faith with the one who shows us where life is, Jesus, God’s anointed, our brother.
It’s going to be a good day.
With you on the journey.