The Full Circle of Baptisms and Funerals
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21
The gifts given in Holy Baptism are for the daily life and even the death of the Christian. Faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation are all gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit in the Water and Word of Holy Baptism. Each day the Christian “returns” to the baptismal waters in confessing one’s sin and rejoicing in God’s forgiveness given in Holy Baptism until we are drawn to the nearer presence of God in our death. Philip H. Pfatteicher draws on Martin Luther in his connecting baptism and death, writing, “The work of baptism, Luther wrote, is suffering and death. ‘For in the easy life no one learns to suffer, to die with gladness, to get rid of sin and to live in harmony with baptism.’ So we spend our lives learning what it means to be baptized…The physical baptism is quickly over, but the spiritual baptism, the drowning of sin, which it signifies, lasts as long as we live and is completed only in death.” (Liturgical Spirituality, p. 241).
There are two such practices that are common to both the baptismal and funeral liturgies that help connect both settings with God’s actions. Those simple actions are the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the giving of a white garment (a pall can be used at funerals). Though neither are necessary, both practices are often included in baptisms and funerals as means of reminding those gathered that this person was one in whom Christ, the Light of the World dwells, the Light no darkness can overcome and that the person was clothed with the robe of His righteousness. Pfatteicher explains, “The Burial of the Dead, therefore, is properly seen in relation to Holy Baptism. It is the completion of the process, the other end of what happens in baptism, the culmination of the work of the Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole church.” (243)
Dear friends in Christ, God made you beloved child in the waters of Holy Baptism. This is a gift of pure grace, neither earned, nor deserved, but freely given. At the end of your days, you can find comfort in knowing that you are still the same sinner on whom your loving Father has had mercy for the sake of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and who received the Father’s benevolent grace in the waters of Holy Baptism. Your baptism is an eternal comfort because it is God’s grace given directly to you!
Prayer – Almighty God, You have knit Your chosen people together into one communion in the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Grant that all who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection may die to sin and rise to newness of life and so pass with Him through the gate of death and the grave to our joyful resurrection; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan