Benediction Online

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Remember Who You Are

Matthew 3:13-17

I was baptized when I was four weeks old. Not because I was sickly, but because it was Mothering Sunday and the vicar wanted a Mothering Sunday christening.

“Christening” comes from an Old English word, and was first used in the 13th century to mean “make Christian” or baptize. A few hundred years later it came to mean simply “to name” and so you can talk about “christening” a ship when it is first launched. Although we still sometimes call infant baptism “christening”, since the early 1970s the Church has come to view it very differently.

The 1970s were a time of great change in society and in the churches. New thinking coming from Vatican II and from the study of early Christian writings which had been discovered at the end of the 19th century led to a reassessment of sacramental theology and liturgy. Within the Episcopal Church, the 1979 Prayer Book, the one we use now, was the result. In some ways it is quite different from its predecessors.

One of the big changes was the rediscovery of the importance and centrality of baptism. Instead of a happy family event to acknowledge a new child, it was re-positioned as the rite of initiation into the Christian faith. As this morning’s gospel reading shows, baptism is important. It is important enough for Jesus to have seen it as “fulfilling all righteousness”. Even though Jesus was without sin he still entered into the rite of initiation and allowed John the Baptizer to baptize him.

In baptism we make the story of God’s people our own. The people of Israel were in slavery in a strange land, but then they were liberated and led through the waters of the Red Sea to freedom. This is the foundational faith story. We hear it again in the story of Jesus the Christ. Humanity was floundering in the bondage of sin, lost in separation from God, but God in Jesus liberated us and brought new life.

In baptism we make this narrative our own. We place ourselves into the story of God’s people as we come through the waters of baptism like the Hebrews came out of Egypt through the Red Sea and later through the Jordan into the Promised Land. Jesus died and was raised into resurrection life. As we too pass through the waters we die with Christ and are raised again as new people, as integral members of Christ’s Body. We claim for ourselves the cosmos-changing work of Christ which restores us to right relationship with God.

In baptism we show our commitment to living a new life, a life in community, a life of service, a Christ-like life and we are sealed as Christ’s own for ever.

Sealed as Christ’s own for ever. This is central to our identity. It is our baptism that proclaims us Christ’s own. When Jesus was baptized, his identity as the Son of God was revealed by the descending dove of the Holy Spirit. Our identity as the children of God is revealed by our baptism.

That is why we have the font at the entrance to the church, as a visual reminder that God’s grace manifests in baptism and that who we are is defined by our having been initiated into the Body of Christ.

This isn’t some magical ritual. Baptism is not something that happens to us and transforms us without our conscious participation - it is a sacrament in which we are active participants. Many of you, like me, were baptized as infants and can remember nothing about it. It was our parents and our godparents who took the life-giving leap of faith on our behalf, and took the responsibility to help us grow up to understand that we are sealed as Christ’s own for ever, members of the household of faith.

Too often we fail the children who we have brought for baptism and instead of growing up in the glorious knowledge of their initiation, they grow up with little understanding of the possibilities, love and fulfillment available to them in Christ.

And what of us? Of you and me? Do we understand the possibilities, love and fulfillment available to us in Christ? Do we understand what it means to be sealed as Christ’s own for ever? As a result of our baptism we can claim God’s words, “This is my daughter, my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” You are God’s beloved. You are God’s daughter, God’s son in whom She is well pleased.

We have the possibility of a loving and trusting relationship with the all-Compassionate God. God is always there. When we stumble and fall, God’s love is still freely available to us. When we are in pain, God’s love is there to help sustain us. That is the reality of our lives as the children of God. But we often forget how amazing it is. We often forget that we are baptized.

That is why from time to time we sprinkle each other with holy water. That is why the water is available in the font for you to dip your fingers in and remind yourself – in baptism we have died and been raised with Christ. We are the beloved sons and daughters of the living God. We are the Body of Christ, we have been sealed as Christ’s own for ever.

Remember who you are!


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