This Saturday, the youth of our church will be hosting their annual mud-pit gathering. Youth and a few brave adults will be sliding down the slip 'n slide into the brown goo of grossness. Some will make mud angels. Others will pose as frozen statues. A few will sling mud (not the gossip kind.) Others will enjoy sitting in the muddy warmth of the earth.
Mud and dirt are very biblical. The creation story tells us that we were made from dust and to dust we shall return. Every Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Season of Lent is a time for us to remember that we are finite beings who are called to depend on God's life giving Spirit. We even receive smudges on our forehead to remind us of our dependence on God.
...dirt clings to us just like our sins cling to our souls.
I have been honored to baptize two of our church members during our annual mud pit. After the baptismal candidate slides down into the mud pit and becomes yucky with mud all over, I have everyone gather around us in a circle. With mud covering our bodies and dripping from our faces, I explain how dirt clings to us just like our sins cling to our souls. I then offer the good news that baptism is a powerful symbol of God cleansing us from our sins and receiving the new life that God is offering to us through Jesus Christ.
Even though United Methodist pastors tend to use the sprinkling method for baptisms, this method will totally not work for someone who is covered in mud in a mud pit. I have to use a garden house and pour the water over the person for a couple of minutes. It always amazes me how the mud wants to cling to us.
"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"
Once the human car wash has been completed, the person now looks like a new person. II Corinthians 5:17 takes on new meaning in that moment. "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"
It's difficult to symbolize the contrast of mud and cleansing water in a pristine sanctuary, but in a mud pit, the theological meaning of baptism really stands out and is quite memorable. I look forward to future baptisms in that mud pit. I know it's not for everyone, but for some, being baptized in a mud pit is something they will always treasure.
Even if we don't have a baptism in the mud pit, we always share in a baptism renewal which is also very powerful. "Remember your baptism and be thankful," are the words told to each person. As the water washes away the mud from the head of each person, it is so cool to hear them respond with the words...
"Thanks be to God!"