Some Sundays have delightful surprises. Last Sunday morning, Karen Buesing showed up carrying a big cardboard box. When she saw me, she
unpacked a ceramic bowl she’d made by hand as a gift for St Luke. But not just any bowl. This is a bowl to hold water and be used in worship. I’d mentioned the idea in passing to her awhile back, knowing of her interest in ceramics. We need the consistent presence of water when we come into worship, so we can remember that we have been forgiven, joined to God in Christ, made members of his family (see Karen’s lovely words on welcome, to the left)- in other words, to remember that we’ve been baptized. Our baptismal font fits best at the front and so isn’t accessible when you come into the sanctuary – moreover, it can’t hold water for a long time without damage to the metal. Karen and her sister Anna heard my concerns, and thoughtfully shared this gift with us.
So will this bowl hold Holy Water? No – just good, clean tap water – the H2O we gulp down and bathe in. When we’re baptized, ordinary water is all God’s promise asks for. As our Catechism puts it, “without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a ‘bath of new birth in the Holy Spirit’ …” I read recently (in thinking about worship space) that covers for baptismal fonts were invented in the middle ages, as a way of preventing the theft of holy water for use by witches in their sorcery. We need no such restriction here. Water is God’s free gift.
So what’s the water in the bowl for? When you enter the sanctuary for worship or depart for life in the world, you can dip your finger in the water and make the sign of the cross on your forehead, remembering that you were “sealed with the Holy Spirit, marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
There’s no magic here, it’s just a tactile experience. Lutherans know that faith needs the senses – water to bathe in, bread and wine to eat, the sounds of words spoken or sung, the presence of one another. Christ himself isn’t just a character in a story or invisible presence – but God in flesh. He comes not to take us from the world, but to redeem us within it. He’s at home here and we’re his guests.
The sanctuary is not just a place set apart, but a place where we are faced with the everyday stuff of life, and God’s love behind and within it.