Last week I watched a video about Aomori’s Nebuta Festival that contained an interview with one of the designers of the big floats that are featured in the parades. Float designers work full time all year around on their creations, starting with sketches and proposals that are done as soon as the festival is finished each year. Throughout the winter there can be as many as 80 people working on the details of the floats, pasting paper over wire and wooden frames, painting the rice paper, wiring the lights and working on a variety of details. The float designer becomes a coordinator of the work. The interview was in Japanese with English subtitles in the video. One of the things the designer was saying is that for him it was a huge responsibility to be a designer because the ancient practices of the festival are being handed forward in each generation. He has inherited the traditions of previous generations and it becomes his responsibility to pass them on to future generations intact. He said, “For me Nebuta is life. It is my life. It is life that I pass on.”
As I watched the video, I was touched by how similar his passion for Nebuta is to my passion about the Christian Faith. I was raised in a family of faith, with traditions that stretch back longer than our memories. The stories that inform my life and have been the core of my studies have been handed down by our people for generations. Somehow, in my time, I have been called to not just keep those traditions, but to tell their stories in ways that are relevant to a particular time and place. The stories of the people I serve are informed by and provide a new chapter in the stories of our tradition. It is my life’s calling to immerse myself in those stories and not just tell them, but to live them in ways that are meaningful. It is my life’s calling to pass them on to future generations of our people.
One of the places where I am most deeply aware of those traditions and of my role in them is when I officiate at the sacraments of the church. In our part of the tradition, we recognize and observe two sacraments: baptism and communion. Every time I officiate, I assume the role of keeper of the traditions of the church. I have studied the history and traditions of the church. I can recite the details of church agreements and disagreements over the understanding of the sacraments. I understand the history of the words we say - the liturgies that we read - the public expressions we use.
It is no small thing that I was invited by our daughter and son in law to travel half way around the globe for the purpose of participating in the baptism of our grandson. He is our fourth grand child and Susan and I have been officiants at the baptisms of all four. Our first grandchild was baptized on the day after our daughter’s wedding and the baptism was witnessed by the extended family gathered for the wedding. There was an awesome sense of responsibility on our shoulders at that time, because it was the same year that my mother died and the same year that Susan’s father died. We had just come to the realization that we were now the elders of our family. The mantle of the generations had been passed. Although our grandson was born before the death of his great grandfather on my wife’s side and a great grandmother and great grandfather on his mother’s side continue to live, his birth was symbolic of the passing of generations in our family.
Yesterday’s celebration of the sacrament of baptism was powerfully emotional for me. The fact that we had been invited to participate is a powerful expression of the faith that we have passed on to our children and the commitments to that faith that they have taken up in their generation. I will continue to have the honor of teaching the stories of our people to our grandchildren for many years to come, but I know that even when I am not around to do so, those stories will live on in the legacy of love that they are inheriting from their parents.
Our scriptures teach simply that God is love. Our grandchildren know the God of our ancestors through the love they experience in their everyday lives. But there are moments of sacrament in the lives of our people when we reach beyond ourselves and experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
As I poured the water of baptism and recited the prayers of our people and held my infant grandson, I was aware of how small I am in the vastness of Creation. I am just a brief moment in the story of our people. That moment, however, is rich with meaning and purpose.
Over the years I have had the honor and privilege of officiating at the baptisms of many children. I’ve held other people’s grandchildren and recited the prayers and poured the water. I’ve witnessed the power of the miracle of the gift of children in the life of our community. I’ve known the presence of the holy in the power of love shared. I’ve also had the privilege of watching those children grow into adulthood. It isn’t just the children of our immediate family whose lives I have known from their baptism to the baptism of their own children. I’ve been privileged to watch many of the infants in our community grow into adults with children of their own. I’ve witnessed the passing of generations and the power of our church family.
Our faith not only transcends time and the passing of generations, but it also transcends space. Our grandparents Abraham and Sarah discovered that when they left the home of their parents and ancestors, God traveled with them. Our children continue to live that same truth. Here in Japan we celebrate the presence of the God of all of the universe. Here we share the miracle of the water of life. Here we understand love that has no limits. How fortunate we are to witness the great power of love!