"He Will Know": Reflections on a Baptism

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baptismofjesusrussianiconn Sunday January 10, 2010, our community marked the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by celebrating the baptism of two people, one an infant girl named Maddie and the other an adult candidate named Byron O’Donnell.  In the sermon that day, I remarked that while these two persons were at very, very different stages of life, we would use the same words, the same water, and the same prayers to mark them both as “Christ’s own forever.”  “In this action,” I said, “we will proclaim that for all of their difference, by grace these two persons are two parts of a larger whole, two members of the Body of Christ, two beloved children of God.”

There was this moment when, just after saying that little Maddie had “never in her life said an unkind word to anyone, much less done anything hurtful, violent or self-destructive”, I turned to where Byron was seated, paused, and said, “now, I don’t think I’m telling tales out of class here…”  After the liturgy, one of Byron’s friends told me that at this point, that whole pew of friends took a collective deep breath, wondering just what it was I was going to say.

Well, I actually didn’t say anything more than to suggest that if you were to ask Byron, he’d tell you quite frankly something about how to mess up on more than just a couple of counts…  He would also be quite willing to tell you a bit about how he’d come to request baptism, and in a very real sense that is exactly what he’s done through a song he’s co-written called “He Will Know.”

When your heart is in despair
He will know
When you feel beyond repair
He will know
When your day is filled with tears
He will hear
When your night is filled with fear
He is near
When this world leaves you behind
He will know
When it all seems so unkind
He will know

We sang the song that night – and you can listen to a brief clip of it, as recorded by Steve Bell on his Devotion CD – and for those of us who have come to know and love Byron, it said it all.

The thing is, it was also a wonderful song to sing for Maddie, for whom the world has been a place of safety, love, and security; all things that her parents John and Susan have offered into her life thus far.  Yet we all know that as she grows up she will inevitably bump up against hard days and deep hurts, and much as we’d love to protect our babies from such things we just can’t.  But we can sing for her a song of deep trust; a song that could only come from a writer who has known the things of which he sings, yet still finds a voice to sing an alternate melody.

I concluded my sermon that night with the following lines:

In different ways, Byron and Maddie will have to continue to work this all out in the coming years.  They will need to keep deciding to lay hold of the truth we will proclaim here this night, and some days that will be easier than others.  But proclaim it we shall: forgiven, welcomed home, soaked in God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; marked as Christ’s own forever.  And it is all a gracious gift.

And it is.

Jamie Howison

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