Baptism & the Communion of the Saints

Layla's baptismal gown

In baptism we are told that we "take off our sinful selves" and we are then "clothed in Christ Jesus." As a symbol of this new beginning, candidates for baptism in the early church took off all of their clothes, were baptized nude, and then were reclothed in white robes which indicated their new purity in Christ. This white baptismal robe is the origin of the alb worn by many clergy during worship services. The idea of being "clothed in Christ" is also preserved in the practice of baptismal gowns - white gowns for children who are being baptized.

My daughter's baptismal gown was as a connection with the generations that came before. It was made by her Great-Great Grandmother, Serena Hansen. It was worn by her Great-Grandpa Hansen and his three siblings, by her Grandpa Hansen and his sister, and of course by her Dad and his brothers. On the day of my daughter's death and re-birth, only a few members of her family were able to be there -- those who are still living and were able to make the trip to Prairie Hill. Yet her baptismal gown reminded us - and someday will remind her - that all of God's faithful saints, including the loved ones of our family, were watching over her on that day.

It was an intentional choice for my daughter to receive the sacrament of Holy Baptism on All Saints Sunday. I have always loved that particular festival, and I liked the idea that it would serve as a constant reminder for her that she is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I also liked the physical connection (the baptismal gown) with the meaning of the festival.

The great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann has pointed out that we (i.e., all of humanity) are inherently sacramental. By this he meant that we need a physical connection to help us make sense of great spiritual truths. Lutherans have always been hesitant to use the language of "sacramental" to talk of anything except the two Sacraments of Water and Table. But there is much that is sacramental without being a sacrament; to say a thing is sacramental is to say that it is a physical reminder or sign of spiritual grace.

All Saints is a wonderful festival of the church, yet one that can be too abstract a concept for many people. I have found that a sacramental reminder -- something physical to connect us to intangible -- can serve as a wonderful reminder of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Any variety of objects can serve such a purpose -- a picture of a loved one, a spouse's favorite shirt, a cross or Bible from a parent. As All Saints Day comes and goes for the year, placing such an object in the place we say our daily prayers can bring us closer to that Great Communion of all the saints.

(Knowing that some readers of this blog do their own sewing and embroidery work, I have placed a couple of detail shots of the baptismal gown below for your enjoyment)