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“Sermons in Stained Glass: Baptistery Windows”
Romans 6:3-5


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost—July 22, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In the book and movie “The DaVinci Code” there were supposedly all sorts of clues about an ancient conspiracy hidden in the design of various churches.  That book was just fiction, with no basis in fact.  But, it is a fact that in our church there are all sorts of hidden clues, not about an ancient conspiracy, but an ancient ceremony.  You could call this building “The Baptismal Code,” because of all the allusions to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism ingeniously incorporated by our architect into its design.

I already mentioned in the sermon about the Baptismal Shell window that if you look at our sanctuary from the air the entire building is in the exact shape of a baptismal shell. The flat top of the baptismal shell is the wall of doors at the entrance of the sanctuary.  The curved bottom of the baptismal shell is this curved wall.  If you could stand our sanctuary on end, it would look just like the baptismal shell in our stained-glass window.  As I mentioned, you can see this unique shape of our sanctuary very clearly if you look up the church’s address in Google Earth.  But, that is just the beginning of “The Baptismal Code” hidden in this building.

Next to the baptismal shell the second most common ancient symbol for Baptism is an octagon.  Jesus says of Baptism, “You must be born again. . . by water and the Spirit,” and Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”  Because Scripture says that God’s original creation of the heavens and the earth took place in seven days, the early church considered the eighth side of an octagon to be symbolic of the new creation and new birth that God works through Holy Baptism.  That is why many baptismal fonts are octagonal.

Can you find the two octagons representing Baptism that are included in “The Baptismal Code” of our church?  The obvious one is our beautiful octagon shaped baptistery, with its eight stained-glass windows.  But, there is another, big octagon in this building, which every one of you walked through today.  That is why the atrium you pass through to enter into the sanctuary is an octagon.  The architect designed it with that shape to symbolize that the Sacrament of Baptism is the Christian initiation rite, through which you pass through spiritually to enter into the Holy Christian Church.

In addition to the baptistery’s octagon floor plan, there’s another shape built into “The Baptismal Code” of its design.  As I mentioned in the sermon about the Baptismal Shell window, the shell is an ancient symbol for Baptism because of its natural association with water.  This is the sterling silver baptismal shell that we use for baptisms. Look carefully at the ceiling of the baptistery.  Do you see the baptismal shell, turned upside down?  That huge shell, forming the ceiling of the baptistery, symbolizes that Baptism is not just a human rite, but in this Sacrament God himself is actually pouring out upon us from above his Holy Spirit, faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.  As Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give?  It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”

The eight stained-glass windows in the baptistery were originally installed in what is now our fellowship hall, while it was still serving as our temporary sanctuary.  The baptistery in our new sanctuary was specifically built to house and highlight this beautiful set of windows.  The medallions in these windows feature eight scenes from the life of Christ: his birth and Baptism; portraying him as the Good Shepherd and knocking at the door; the Last Supper and his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane; and in the two center windows his crucifixion, and resurrection and ascension.  Paul says in Galatians, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  These stained-glass windows in our baptistery depicting the life of Christ symbolize that through Baptism you are “clothed . . . with Christ,” that through this Sacrament God bestows on you the benefits of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection.

There is ancient prayer that asks God to “save us from a fearful death.”  That is what we all deserve on account of our sins, “a fearful death,” and eternal damnation in hell.  As Paul says in Romans, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men . . .  for the wages of sin is death.” 

I can’t stand to watch movies or television shows that depict someone drowning, because for me that is the most “fearful death.”  Although Jesus was obviously not under water as he died, from a pathological standpoint he actually did die from a form of drowning.  Because in crucifixion the position of the arms and the weight of the body pulling down makes proper respiration impossible, causing the lungs to fill with fluid, essentially drowning the victim.

“Greater love has no man than this,” Jesus says, “that he lay down his life . . .  I lay down my life, only to take it up again.”  Jesus laid down his life for you, suffering for you the most “fearful death” in all of history. Peter puts it this way, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. . .  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross . . . by his wounds you have been healed.”  You will not receive the wages of sin, because God’s own Son paid the penalty for you.  You will not endure eternal death and damnation, because he bore your sins in his body on the cross.

Paul explains in today’s Epistle Reading from Romans that through your “drowning” in Holy Baptism God imparts to you the merits of his Son’s death from drowning upon the cross: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

That is why our baptistery features these windows depicting the life of Christ, and especially the two windows in the center depicting his death and resurrection: “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. . . If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

Through Holy Baptism the story of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection is not just a lesson in ancient history.  By means of your Baptism into Christ you are connected to and receive the benefits of what he did so long ago and far away.  Your Baptism is like a conduit, stretching across the centuries and around the world, back to “a hill far away” and “an old, rugged cross.”  “We were therefore buried with him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

There is one final feature representing Baptism in “The Baptismal Code” of our church building.  Paul says about Baptism in Ephesians, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”  As you leave the sanctuary today notice the waterfall in our prayer garden.  Those gushing waters are meant to symbolize “the washing with water through the word” that God gave to you in Holy Baptism.

In a few weeks our son will be going off to college, and our oldest daughter to boarding school.  There’s an old story about a father giving his son some final advice as he leaves home: “You’ll do all right if you just remember you’re my son.  Just remember who you are.”

The gushing waters that you see as you go out from God’s house into the world are a final reminder to you to “just remember who you are” as you live out your daily life.  For you are “born again . . . by water and the Spirit,” born again as God’s own child.  As you live out your daily life just remember who you are.

“All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

Amen.

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