Last week-end I participated in our ninth grade confirmation retreat at Camp Wapo. The sixteen youth will be confirmed in October, affirming their baptismal covenant. This group had a few “energetic” boys who could be distracting at times so we had to find creative ways to teach.
The retreat focused on the “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. At Friday’s campfire we introduced God’s name “I AM WHO I AM;” God gave this name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). The name in Hebrew became so sacred that later generations of Jews would not pronounce it. Yet Jesus utilized the “I am” name to describe himself. For example in John 9 when he healed a man born blind, he said, “I am the light of the world.”
The next morning we explored the other “I am” statements of Jesus. To keep their attention, we walked about the camp as we discussed, thinking about “I am the way” (John 14:6). We walked through the gate of the “Gaga Pit,” for a discussion of “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7).
As we stopped in a grove of trees, we listen to Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:1) and prayed as we grasped the trunk/vine in our hands. For the most part, the students seem to be connecting to Jesus’ words.
As we approached the swimming beach, I had planned to have the student remember their baptism and Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26). We were to walk down to the lake shore, dip our hands in the water and make the sign of the cross on our forehead. We would say the words, “I am alive in Christ.” The water would connect us to our baptism and our life in Christ.
However I had neglected to scout the beach prior to our approach. It had not been used for a few weeks, since summer camp ended. As I walked to the shore, I discovered that there was at least a half-foot of thick mud at the water’s edge and that the water had become a sickly green. Instead of life, the water reminded me of death. Uncertain what to do, I looked up to see one of the “energetic” boys walking out onto the dock. It stretched beyond the mud and green algae.
So there on the dock, we reached over into the lake water and renewed our baptism, water dripping from our heads and hands.
I hope someday that I can incorporate an actual immersion under the water as a way of remembering our baptism. I am still Lutheran in my embrace of infant baptism as God’s means of grace. God starts the covenant relationship. But I think many of us need experiential rites along the way to affirm and remember this covenant. Being dunked in a lake could help us remember that we are buried with Christ and raised with Christ in the waters of our baptism (Roman 6:3-4).
I will first need to find a lake without green algae.
Lord Jesus, I am alive in you. Thank you