Then the Bishop or Priest places a hand on the person’s head, marking on the forehead the sign of the cross [using Chrism if desired] and saying to each one… N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen.
Not sure what it is about Baptism, but I become a misty-eyed old fool most occasions. It’s not the babies that get me all sentimental. After all, cute though they are in their snow white “Christening gowns,” those little cherubs are basically just sleeping & crying & feeding & pooping machines. No big deal.
And yet, what our tradition offers to them is a very big deal. It is an extraordinary thing we offer these pudgy-faced lumps of flesh in baptism — we name them and brand them.
“(Jackson Thomas or Mary Catherine or John Jacob Jinglehimer…), you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as CHRIST’S OWN…FOR EVER!!!!!!!”
I look at the priest holding that baby, and sometimes think of a little calf scampering off having just had its rear flank permanently seared by the red-hot branding iron. And for whatever reason I mist up, knowing (or at least wanting desperately to believe) that whatever lies ahead for that infant, whatever future choices are made for or by that child, whatever those innocent eyes see (or refuse to see) in the lifetime waiting ahead, I am being reminded that this newest Christian belongs not just to our parish, not just to the one holy catholic church universal, but most especially to Christ!
And there is one clever twist at the end…
The nerdy lawyer-wordsmith in me is also compelled to note that this liturgy of Baptism makes a small but oh-so-significant point to conclude this “branding” ritual. Most ears hear the priest say the word “forever” at the very end of the sentence. But that is not really what the Prayer Book says. Although the discussion of eternity is certainly appropriate for the occasion, the quirky fact is that the liturgy concludes with TWO words — “for ever” — and not one. Hitting that space bar makes the enormous statement that this branding is not just about permanence, but about purpose as well.
-Christ named him.
-Christ claimed her.
-And Christ marked and sealed that young child as his own…
And NOTHING can separate him or her – or any of us – from God’s infathomable Love and Grace.
Quite overwhelming, when you think about it.