Covenant child, water comes as a sign
Source: Singing the Faith: 533
Words: Mary Rose Jensen
Music: Mary Rose Jensen
Ideas for use
Mary Rose Jensen’s hymn reflects her intention “to write music that is useful to the church, especially for worship, and that teaches sound doctrine.” Here she encapsulates the fundamentals of Christian baptism in the form of promises and explanations offered by members of the congregation (the singers) to the adult or child being baptized.
The hymn echoes – and sits alongside – those sections of the Methodist services of baptism and confirmation entitled “The Promise of the People”. Here, on behalf of the local and worldwide Church, we promise to “so maintain the Church’s life of worship and service that [the baptized individual] may grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord”.
The hymn is sung most appropriately following the act of baptism and “the promise of the people”. It also offers a helpful starting point for exploring the meanings of baptism – in a sermon, a small group discussion, or in a preparation class for baptism.
See also On this Baptism day, God we thank you (StF 539)
Though foundational covenants are recorded in the Hebrew scriptures between God and Abraham and God and King David, the covenant that underpins “Covenant child” is the “new covenant” described in the New Testament. It is a covenant rooted in God’s grace, seen in the life and legacy of Jesus and experienced through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. The nature of the covenant relationship is seen most clearly by Jesus’ self-giving on Calvary at Easter and in the dramatic appearance of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is a covenant that God not only gifts but also enacts.
Taking the new covenant as her starting point, Mary Rose Jensen’s hymn sits well with the Methodist understanding that baptism “is a gift of God. It declares to each of us the love and grace of God”. Mary Rose alludes to each of the key ideas that make baptism such an important act and symbol for Christians:
- that we are brought into a union with Jesus (“Covenant child, you are living in Christ…” v.2). This idea is unpacked by St Paul in his letter to the early Christians in Rome: Romans 6: 3-5
- that we are incorporated into the Church (“You are one of his people, his Church is your home” v.1). “Baptism is the sign-act of entrance into the church no matter at what ages it is practiced”, write James White. See e.g. 1 Corinthians 12: 13 and Galatians 3: 27-8
- that baptism signifies “new birth” (“water comes as a sign of washing and cleansing renewing your mind” v.1) See e.g. John 3: 5
The cleansing action of water also represents the forgiveness of sins. However, Methodists are clear that baptism does not require us to earn forgiveness before baptism. Even without our full understanding, God accepts us “as God’s own” just as we are – and through the Church, local and global, we can hope to be supported in our journey of faith. (cf. Charlotte Elliott’s hymn Just as I am, without one plea, StF 556; or Frederick Faber’s There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, StF 416)
In the Methodist tradition, it is often babies and young children who are brought for baptism; but the baptism or confirmation of adults is also common. Those who are uncomfortable with the idea of baptising infants often argue that baptism requires an individual to repent of their sins and to articulate their faith (see e.g. Mark 16: 16 and Acts 2: 38), something that is not possible for infants.
Responding to this concern, James White argues that baptism marks a beginning – as much for adults as for young children; the beginning of a lifetime in which to respond to God’s gift of love. He argues that “Christianity, after all, is more than a theology; it is a way of life, a network of relationships of love”:
To include children in the Christian family and yet to exclude them from membership of the body of Christ seems inconsistent. If children cannot be part of God’s community being saved, it is dubious whether adults belong there either… Baptism goes much deeper than intellectual cognition alone… Rather it changes our whole life within a context of loving community relationships, expressed both in family and in the Church. Even for adults, baptism is a gift, not a reward.*
(*James White Sacraments as God’s Self Giving, 1983: Abingdon Press p.47)
With her roots in the United Methodist Church in the USA, in 1991 Mary Rose Jensen established Garden Rose Music with her husband Mark in order to publish Songs of Joy, a print and recorded music project designed to teach children the basics of the Christian faith.
Mary Rose wrote “Covenant Child” as a companion to her hymn Supper with Jesus about the Lord’s Supper:
Supper with Jesus is offered
as a sign and seal of His grace.
Bread and wine are given
to show his covenant is in place.
“I figured that, in order to teach children the rest of the story, I needed to write one about baptism, too, to cover both sacraments. In writing Covenant Child, I was wanting to defend the practice of infant baptism. I’m coming from the view that baptism is the New Testament sign comparable to circumcision in the Old Testament – the sign of belonging to the covenant people. It is now the entrance rite to the Church. And the Church includes the children!”
Singing the Faith Plus has also published Mary Rose’s song, The name of Jesus – this post includes more information about Mary Rose.