They invited us to show up at the church an hour before sunrise, wearing “baptismal white.”
Now, I don’t own a lot of white things. When I was a child, my mom would never have bought me white clothing, because she knew life would happen and pure white would become dingy gray. I thought this was one of my mother’s more sensible pieces of advice, along with “Don’t wear high heels; they’ll wreck your back.” We were that kind of family, never striving for picture perfect, knowing that spills and falls would happen and mess us up.
So I borrowed white clothing, and I put it on before leaving for church in the dark. But I won’t lie: on the inside, I felt dingy gray. My Holy Saturday involved some crankiness, quite a bit of asking forgiveness and then doing the same thing again. One likes to go from Holy Week to Easter feeling morally pure and super in touch with Jesus, and instead, I felt tired and discouraged.
We lit the Easter candle with new fire, singing, “Christ alive! Thanks be to God!” We sat in chairs around the baptismal font decked with lilies. We listened to stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, part of the history of God moving in the world, and some of us shared our own stories of how we’d felt God in our lives on Holy Week.
Well, others shared. I listened, squirming in my white, feeling less than spiritual.
We were invited to line up by the font of holy water, cross ourselves with it and repeat our promise to follow Christ. I went to the back of the line, wishing I felt more emotional and excited, like last Easter when I woke with the dawn out of sheer happiness. Instead, I felt something like trepidation as the line crept toward the font. I was baptized the first time at nine, without knowing what I was getting into, mostly because my mom wanted me to. And did I understand this, even now? Could I really promise to follow, knowing how often I tend to get lost?
And the thought came to me, unbidden: Of course you won’t get there all at once. This is a journey, and all you’re doing is promising you’ll set out in the right direction and keep checking your compass.
Of course you’re not ready for this. It’s outrageous. What you’re doing is giving God permission to start a good work in you, and God will not give up on you until that work is finished. God will glue you back together, little clay pot, and not allow you to be smashed forever.
So take that step in the right direction. Surrender to the mustard plant, the wild yeast taking you over, slowly, little by little. Cling to Christ, and let him wash your feet and make you clean again.
Sunrise streamed through the stained glass window and I splashed water on head, heart, and shoulders from left to right, forming the cross on my very body. I felt so far from picture perfect, so sure I would stain the whiteness I wore. And yet I also felt hope creep in, slow and certain as the dawn, as the water that can make anything clean, wear down rock and expose the true heart of the Earth.
“No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of his presence.”