Matthew 3 talks about baptism by fire. Last week, I was baptized by ice.
When I initially saw the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge fundraiser and awareness, I wondered how deeply important this would impact the world. Watching the first few friends dump water on their heads, I had to ask myself: Who does this help? Are we talking enough about the disease as we film these videos? Or are people just pouring water on their heads without much acknowledgement of this horrible illness? Would I even consider taking part?
And then my younger sister nominated me. I couldn't escape the ritual.
As I continually watched videos of friends and strangers taking part in the challenge, I realized that being soaked in freezing water in the name of a cause was drawing all sorts of people together. We were not solely individuals taking on a challenge. Instead we became connected by this ritual of pouring a bucket of ice and water over our heads in the name of stopping an illness.
Friends I hadn't seen for years except on social media posted videos of ice-filled water streaming down their heads and necks. Those I had known from my early childhood years, high school, college, church and seminary were flooding social media with their frozen moments. From the youth heading into high school to the middle-aged woman and man, and from the famous actor to the local church pastor, we joined together to take part in a common practice and cause.
This ritual became more than a dare and more than a simple yet widespread fundraiser. For me, it was also chance to remember my baptism.
When it came to my turn, I didn't have anyone else to pour the bucket of water on me. I ended up performing this ritual myself. As the frigid waters ran down my head, face and back, I tried to focus my attention on the cause and the greater connection between me, the others taking on this challenge and those struggling with ALS.
(But I couldn't help it. I still focused on how chilly the water was as it dripped down my back.)
In our church life, there are times when water is poured on our heads or our whole bodies are immersed in pools of water. Through this sacrament we experience that same type of connection to others in our faith. That is baptism. As humans and as Christians, we are not alone in this often-chaotic life. Through the ritual of baptism, we are reminded of grace in community. As we watch a small child, teen or adult experience the trickling water across their foreheads, we remember whose child we are. Our messiness as humans continues well after our baptisms. Yet, the water will always remind us that God's grace is present with us as we abide with God's children in community.
So as we watch our next friend or favorite sports team dump a bucket of icy water on themselves as they stand in the warm summer sun, let us remember our bond to those who struggle each day with the degenerative illness of ALS. Let us remember our connection to the larger Church and our greater relationship to all of humanity. Let us be reminded of our small yet important part in the Body of Christ.
And let us remember our baptism.