By Water and the Word


WEEK OF Pentecost 19

What does such baptizing with water signify?  It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  (Martin Luther in his explanation of Holy Baptism in the Small Catechism)

I run my hand through my hair as I stretch and yawn after lunch … and I smell it.  I scratch the itch at the bridge of my nose while typing before dinner … and I smell it.  I take a sip of water while watching the evening Dodgers-Cubs game … and I smell it.  It is the smell of frankincense.  (When we anoint our baptismal candidates we use oil that is scented with frankincense.  Each year at a Holy Week service of affirmation for rostered leaders, we pick up a bottle or two of the oil for use in our baptisms.)  I pause each time I smell it.  Not because it makes me think of Christmas, even though it does, obviously.  No, I pause because it reminds me of the morning baptism.

And as I remember, I also wonder … why do I need a tangible reminder of the gift of baptism?  Why can’t I simply remember the gift of baptism as Martin Luther did.  He writes elsewhere that upon awakening he would remember and sometime speak aloud that “in sleep he died to sin and in waking he arose to new life.”  We talk about our daily remembrance of baptism all the time in the church.  Why are we so quick to forget it?

All it takes for me is an overloaded schedule for the day ahead, or a meeting I am not looking forward to, or a difficult conversation I must have.  And just like that, my daily remembrance goes out the window like yesterday’s breeze.  I must be crazy.  Is it not enough for me that “a new man (or woman) daily come forth and arise” as Friar Martin reminds me in the Catechism?  What more could I ask for each morning that I awaken.

So I am grateful for the liturgical opportunities of baptismal celebrations, or thanksgiving for baptism liturgies, or the festivals of Easter Vigil and the Baptism of Our Lord, for the opportunity to be invited into remembrance.  I am grateful for the writings of Martin Luther that occasionally cross my eyes, and their reminders of the importance of my baptism.  Maybe I can find a way to instill a kind of spiritual frankincense in my heart and soul, whose haunting scent will call my soul back to God’s baptismal promises.  As a baptized child of God, hope springs eternal within me.

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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