I spent about five hours yesterday out with my local fire department, where I serve as chaplain. We were called to a house fire in a neighboring town; one that unfortunately left a family without a home. After the fire we returned back to our station, put up our gear, and did what we always do after a fire call: we washed the fire truck.
It was covered in the mud from an unpaved Vermont road, so much so that the markings on the fire engine had been covered up. I sprayed water over the whole truck, watching as the dirt and ash and mud slid down off the red sides, the diamond plates, the tires and pumps, and onto the pavement below. While it did I thought about the pain and mess we had just seen, and how much easier life would be if we could just wash the mess away and make everything squeaky clean and shiny again.
But life doesn’t work that way. And faith doesn’t either. While our baptism as Christians might wash us with grace, and affirm Christ’s claim on us, it doesn’t make us invulnerable to the messiness of life. If you are really going to live your faith in this world, you’re going to get dirty, despite what you may have been told otherwise. You’re going to get down in the mud and the dirt, and some of it is going to get on you. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s a reminder that you have dared to wrestle with the world’s harder places, and that you have not simply stayed locked up in the safety of the temple.
But there are times, after the strife, when you will have a moment to return and rest, and remember the marking that are there under that mud. Just like the department’s name and engine number were still there in gold after the dirt was washed away, our baptism remains even when we are clothed in the mess of the world. It is what defines us in the end.
And so in Lent, we remember what is really there under everything, and we connect with it, and cut through the surface levels and remember who, and whose, we are. And then we do the small things in ways that matter. We wash the fire trucks. We live our lives. And, rest assured, we get messy again. Because that’s what life, and our baptism, requires of us.