Last week I sat across a (very short) table in the church nursery from a mother and her son. As the staff member who is tasked with preparing families for baptism, this meeting was unique by virtue of the child’s age: Justus is eleven.
Of course, for many of you, this is not unexpected; but for those who worship in denominational churches like mine – you understand. Most of the time, when the baptismal waters part in our congregations, the candidate for baptism is an infant – presented by faithful parents with a future Confirmation class in mind. Sitting with me at the table, however, was a mischievous middle-schooler with an infectious enthusiasm for life and a smile that cannot easily be described but which most certainly takes place not at the lips, but at the cellular level.
Our “splash class” proceeded as you might expect, with myself and mom doing most of the talking while Justus’ eyes danced with anticipation. We talked about what to expect at the baptism. We discussed our understanding of what “happens” in the water, when the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the deep and resurrection-life springs forth. We wondered out loud about how much of this baptism was a profession of faith by Justus in God, and how much was God’s own pronouncement that Justus belongs to Him.
I described the upcoming event in detail so as to dispel any possible trepidation on the part of either mother or son, but the look Justus gave me when I described how the water would be splashed onto his head made it abundantly clear that this guy wasn’t nervous about baptism day; instead, he seemed ready to take on some water, and something told me that Justus had never met a puddle or swimming pool he didn’t like.
Sunday came, prayers were offered, and water was poured over Justus’ bowed head in triplicate, “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” A candle was lit, a faith chest presented, and the family of God cheered him on.
After the service, I ran into Justus, whose grin betrayed his feelings about the day. Even as I write this now, I’m not sure what I expected to hear when I told him what a great morning it had been. “Yeah,” he chuckled easily, as he reached up with one hand to pat the hair on the top of his head, “and I got hair gel in the holy water!” He was giggling (and so was I) as he turned toward his friends and walked away.
Hair gel in the holy water.
Isn’t it just like God to meet us where we are? For Justus on his baptism day, a holy transaction took place in the water; something human met Someone holy in the process, leaving a swirling residue as proof in the baptismal font. God made His mark on Justus, and the hair gel in the holy water goes to show that God is ready to deal with the consequences of calling imperfect, mischievous, in-progress people to life in the community of His Son; He can handle the messes we make. In fact, He expects them.
Of course, Justus may not have realized all of this at the time, but that doesn’t make it any less so – or any less perfectly beautiful.