THE CHAPLAIN Series
The Baptism of Jesus
Go Forth and Baptize
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."
“At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my child, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16b-17
“It was a house fire. The father climbed back in through a window to save his two kids, a girl and a boy. They all died,” the nurse told Chaplain Lydia Jackson when she arrived at the hospital. “The mother is here. And the grandmother. Could you sit with them?”
Lydia entered the Emergency Room and saw two gurneys. Each gurney held a small child, head resting on a pillow and body covered with another white sheet. Side by side, the brother and sister lay. The chaplain was overwhelmed for a moment, until the nurse’s voice broke in again.
“Both children are dead, but the doctor hasn’t come back to officially pronounce the second child. We can’t wait any longer. You and I will have to inform the family.”
“The family is Catholic. We’ve called a priest. The mother wants the children baptized,” the nurse added.
“I’ll wait with them until he gets here.”
Some thirty minutes later, a priest from a local congregation arrived. He conferred with the medical staff, came into the family waiting room, and announced he would be able to baptize only one of the children – the one who had not yet been pronounced dead. The other one was beyond his jurisdiction.
Lydia’s eyes widened. She surely hadn’t heard correctly.
“What did he just say?”
“He’s going to baptize one of them,” the nurse answered. “The one who hasn’t been pronounced dead is still technically alive.”
The family, priest, nurse, and chaplain walked to the small room where the children were. Approaching the child who was still technically alive, the priest performed a short ceremony, offered a prayer, and left.
“Would you like me to baptize your daughter?”
The mother looked up, raised her eyebrows just a little, and quietly said, “Yes.”
Lydia poured some water from the Emergency Room sink into a plastic bowl and found two cotton balls. Returning to the bedside of the child, she quietly began speaking her understanding of Christian baptism.
“Baptism is a symbol acknowledging what God has already done. God has claimed this child for His own and has wrapped her in His never-ending love.” The Presence standing by the children today appeared as the loving father who lost his life attempting to rescue his family from their burning home.
“We cannot presume to know whom God embraces as his own. Had this little girl lived, her family would have raised her up to love God and know God’s laws.”
She looked at the mother and received the expected nod of concurrence.
“This mother entrusts the soul of her child to the arms of her Lord and believes fervently in the Lord’s saving grace.”
Again, she received a nod and a smile from the mother.
“What is the full name of your child?”
Turning again to
the little girl,
The chaplain hugged the family and stayed with them until they were able to leave the bodies of the father and the children to the care of the hospital staff. Funeral preparations would begin in the morning.
Let’s go home now, the Presence whispered to the shaken chaplain.
The following day,
“I sure wish you
were here last night,”
“Gotta have some time off,” the priest answered with a smile. “Anything happen?”
Lydia launched into her tale.
“That was Father LeBlanc,” the priest explained. “He’s technically correct, but I would have baptized both kids – and the father, too – if they’d asked. I think God would forgive me, if forgiveness was in order.”
Told you so, the Presence smiled. Sometimes you have to go with your gut.
Lydia felt better. Most Protestant faiths don’t baptize people after they die, either, she reflected, but this situation was decidedly different.
Decidedly, came the Voice.
Baptizing dead and
dying children is not uncommon in the hospital setting.
“You are the chaplain!? You should be fired, de-frocked! You are unprofessional and just plain stupid,” shouted a red-faced, angry man in a suit.
“I know who you are. I’m taking my son the hell out of this institution right now,” the Suit screamed, moving closer and deeper in to her personal space.
“I really don’t know what you are upset about.”
“My son. You agreed to baptize my son. Any fool would know better than to do that!” he shouted. “I am a psychiatrist and I know what is best for my son.”
You are concerned about your son; maybe you need this time to scream at someone; but hit me, Mister, and I’ll take you down, she thought theologically. The tirade continued.
cancel the baptism,”
When the coast was clear, she went back to the unit to explain the new set of circumstances to the son. He seemed to understand; he did know his father.
“The desire to be baptized sometimes has to suffice,” she offered. “Such a Baptism of Desire is as good in the eyes of God as a few drops of water.”
She left rather quickly, to avoid The Return of The Suit.
You’d better get your ducks in order, the Presence offered as they walked to the spiritual care office. This guy could be a problem.
Lydia consulted with her friend, the priest – who confirmed her “desire in the eyes of God” theory. She called her attorney, who told her he’d stand by – but that baptizing people was a recognized aspect of a clergyperson’s job description.
Next she called a psychiatrist – a Jewish psychiatrist. He allowed as though baptism just might have been beneficial to the young man’s mental health.
If he comes back, we’re ready for him, they signaled each other.
Suit did not return. He did collect his son and,
I’m a Buddhist, Mom,”
Lydia and the Presence glanced at one another.
The kid then took
the stage and offered a dramatic reading from the Book of Leviticus --
something about red lizards, and cloth, and breaking clay pots. It all made
“I don’t like the pre-printed prayers,” the girl’s sister chimed in. “And the people are old; and I don’t like the music; and I especially don’t like the sermon part. Furthermore, I took a test on the Internet, and I’m a Unitarian!”
The young women had put their four feet down: Hell no, we won’t go!
was hard for
It’s okay, they’ll be okay, the Presence
would re-assure her, but
How do you know what kind of relationship we have?, the Presence would chide. Let it be.