On Sunday, we heard the story of the Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.[i] At one point in the story, the eunuch says, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The question is simultaneously wonderful – how amazing to hear someone so inspired by the witness of Jesus that they want to baptized right away – and anxiety-making. Episcopalians are very clear about our identity and our liturgical ways of doing things. So certain is our identity, that I could imagine an Episcopalian responding to the eunuch, “Well, we need to sign you up for baptism class, and then find out when the next best baptismal feast day is on the liturgical calendar. Once we get everything lined up, we’d be thrilled to schedule your baptism!” Somehow, that response from Philip would not have made for such an enticing story about the power of evangelism and discipleship.
The eunuch’s words were ringing in my ears when I received a similar request recently. One of our young parishioners lost her godfather to an unexpected death during COVID. We were all devastated and grieved together. But a few weeks ago, the family contacted me with a request. They had already talked as a family about how her godfather would always be her godfather, even from heaven. But they also wanted to appoint a new earthly godfather who could help their daughter grow in the life of faith. And so, their question was, “Is there a way you can do that liturgically by Zoom?”
One answer could have been no; we do not have such a liturgy in our Prayer Book. But the request was so pure and Spirit-led that I knew even a Prayer Book would not want to limit such grace and abundance. And so, in consultation with some fellow clergy and liturgical resources, including the Book of Common Prayer, we cobbled together a beautiful liturgy. We prayed for the godfather who had passed and the ways in which he would always be with us. The godchild formally asked the godfather if he would be willing to be her earthly godfather. We asked the normal questions we ask in a baptismal liturgy of the godfather, and then we all reaffirmed our Baptismal Covenant and prayed over the new “family” we had created – all via Zoom. And although we were not in our beloved chapel, we created a profound, intimately sacred space together, where the Holy Spirit blessed us as a community.
When I think about those questions, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” and “Can we designate a new godparent?” these are questions of curiosity and longing. These are questions inspired by those seeking Christ and wanting a deeper connection to God. If this pandemic has taught us anything, we have learned the ways in which the Holy Spirit is unbounded and can act – whether in a building, alongside a road, or online. This week, I invite you to ponder what limits you have placed around your own connection to God – what barriers or rules have hindered your connection to the sacred. How might you begin lessening your grip to allow room for encounters with the sacred?
[i] Acts 8.26-40