In the early church Lent was the time of instruction in preparation for baptism. Catechumens, those being instructed in the faith, spent the Lenten season learning about the Christian faith and doctrine. These people would then be baptized at the Great Vigil of Easter.
In classes or retreats on Lent, baptism or Easter, consider doing a meditation on baptism. The symbol of water is a powerful way to help people experience baptism and the gifts and spirit it brings to each of us. Here is one such meditation that I have developed over the years, incorporating the gifts of others and adding some of my own.
- Large bowl, preferably clear glass or plastic
- Pitcher of warm water – use as nice a pitcher as you can
- Crystal stones – you can find them in floral and garden shops. I think Michael’s carries them too. I use the clear stones not colored ones because they look the most like water.
- Table for the materials, covered with a nice cloth.
- Towel for wiping your hands when you’re done.
- Piece of paper with script (see below) – or you can memorize it
I usually do this at the end of a retreat or workshop on baptism. I let that serve as my lead-in, if you will, but you can develop your own based on your context. I say that this is a final meditation or prayer on baptism. Be slow and intentional when you do this. Don’t rush.
Prior to starting, place enough stones in the bottom of the bowl so that you have one/person. I usually add a few extra in case I’ve mis-counted! I include myself in the count. Set the bowl and pitcher of water on the table. You need to be behind the table facing the participants. Make the set-up attractive.
Slowly pour the water from the pitcher into the bowl. Do this in silence so that the only sound is that of the water splashing. Raise and lower the pitcher as your pour so that the sound changes and so that people can clearly see the movement of the water.
Put the pitcher down. Cupping your hands, dip them into the water, raise your hands about nose level and let the water in your hands trickle back into the bowl. As you continue to do this, say:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we come to him in faith, having been baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and we accept this symbol of our baptism as we go forth into the world.
(Adapted from the “Thanksgiving over the Water”, Service of Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer, page 306)
You then invite the participants to come forward to receive one of the stones. They can dip their hand into the water and take one, or you can place one in their hand. Either way you want their hand to get wet. I like placing the stone in each person’s hand and saying: “[their name], receive this stone as a symbol of your baptism.” I purposefully get their hand wet. If they have on nametags or you know them you can say their name, which is nice. Otherwise you can just say, “Receive this stone as a symbol of your baptism.”
Allow a few minutes of silence. You could have some simple music playing at this point. You can close with a prayer or a song.
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs (Nellie’s Garden) as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.