Today, as I reflect on what took place in my city, I grieve. I mourn for those families who lost love ones. I pray for those who are still in hospital and I wonder what can be done. And then I hear in my head the phrase, "remember your baptism".
Remember my baptism? On a day like today, why would I remember my baptism? That was a day of joy. This is a day of sorrow. How can I not mourn this loss? How can I ignore this tragedy in order to bring cheerful images to mind?
A few weeks ago our church held a baptism service where those who had already been baptised were encouraged to "remember your baptism". The phrase beings to mind images of celebration, smiling, laughter and joy. I remembered when I was baptised as a child. I remembered baptism services I have attended, and all I could do was smile and cry tears of joy and I was seeing the same thing on the faces of the two people being baptised.
The testimonies of those being baptised that day included stories of transformation and change. "I now have a new life", "I have been born again", and "I have a new hope in Christ". On that day, remembering my baptism, and celebrating with the newly baptised filled my heart with joy.
But yesterday was a different day. Yesterday I woke up to emails asking if my family was OK. Yesterday I woke up to a social media feed filled with anxiety, fear, and questions. Yesterday I woke up to the news saying a suicide bomber killed nearly two dozen people at concert in Manchester, in my city. I listened to the radio and I read through the news sites all day. I scrolled through my social media pages and I saw images and videos of a tragic night out.
As I reflected on the phrase, "remember your baptism", I began to realise that on a day like today, remembering my baptism takes on new meaning. Remembering my baptism does not mean ignoring what is happening. No. To remember my baptism on a day like today is to remind myself of what it means to be "baptised into Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:3).
Baptism is an activity in which we identify with Christ and align ourselves with his purpose. And what was his purpose? Who did Jesus identify himself with? Former Archbishop Rowan Williams put it this way, "Baptism is a ceremony in which we are washed, cleansed and re-created. It is also a ceremony in which we are pushed into the middle of a human situation that may hurt us, and that will not leave us untouched or unsullied." Jesus aligned himself with those who weep, those who mourn and those who are vulnerable.
So today, when I hear the call to "remember your baptism" I do not hear a call to celebration and joy. I hear a call to align myself with Jesus, to empathise with those in need, to come alongside those in chaos, and to immerse myself, not only in the water, but in the depths of human tragedy.
Joseph Wood is a Lecturer at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester