This morning we celebrated the baptism of Omid, who was anointed as Christ’s own by the Holy Spirit, and welcomed into this, the family of Christ. The community of St John’s, and in particular - Omid’s sponsors: Jean Sampy and Stuart - pledged to support Omid as he moves forward on his faith journey.
The holy sacrament of baptism, the support of a faith community and the transformative power of Christ in our lives, are themes running through all of this morning’ readings. That is because they are essential elements in order for us to grow, in faith, and will be my focal points for this morning’s sermon.
Baptism is an ancient and foundational practice of initiation into the Christian church which is rich with symbols and meaning. The rite of baptism was initiated, and taken very seriously, by the first Christian communities. A strict, regimented preparation for the baptismal candidate was shared among the various lay and clergy members of the community. It’s focus centered around learning to live a new lifestyle and upholding the faith community’s beliefs. Although we are not as strict with our baptismal preparation today, I take comfort knowing that we still observe much of the original Baptismal ritual, as it would have occurred in ancient times. For example:
1. the baptism took place within the Eucharist service where the whole community were gathered: ( to prepare them to listen to God’s word, and to witness this important event in the life of their community); 2. the holy scriptures were proclaimed; 3. the baptismal candidate was presented and examined by their sponsors; 4. there was a thanksgiving over the water (to symbolize a recalling of the waters of creation, the exodus, and the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan); 5. a prayer was asked, that those who are baptized, may be buried and raised with Christ, cleansed of sin and reborn of the Holy Spirit; 6. The baptismal covenant was entered into with promises made by the Candidate, their sponsors and the faith community. The Apostles Creed, which was first composed for this purpose, was recited and symbolized the covenant of faith; 7. once baptized, the new Christian was marked with the sign of the cross (either with water or Chrism oil). It’s interesting to note that the Chrism oil was traditionally used to anoint kings, and symbolized Jesus ‘the anointed one’. It authentically links the baptism of each Christian to the baptism of Christ – Immanuel – ‘God is with us’. 8. the newly baptized were given a lighted candle to symbolize that they now bear the light of Christ for the world to see; 9. they were welcomed into the community of Christ (likely by the laying on of hands) who confessed the faith of Christ, and all shared in the eternal priesthood. 10. the Peace was shared, and the newly baptized took part in their first Holy Communion…sound relatively familiar?
Up until the middle ages, a baptism was still referred to as a ‘washing clean’ of a body full of sin. By a full body immersion - symbolic of the burial of sin and the coming out of the water, into new life - the cleansing was a ‘covenant of grace’ between God and humanity – sealed by Christ’s death on the cross. The baptized was then clothed in a white robe as a sign of their purity.
Today, we pour water over the Baptismal candidates forehead, three times, to connect the name of the person to the name of the Trinity (father, son and Holy spirit), and a reminder that they are God’s beloved and a part of the family of God – also known as the Body of Christ.
The ancient terms of inward and outward baptism are still referred to today. The inward baptism is of spirit (initiated by the covenant of grace with the Holy spirit). We believe the holy spirit (often portrayed as a dove in flight) comes down from heaven and enters into our lives, at the time of our baptism, to guide and comfort us on our life’s journey.
The outward baptism is evident through the water and the signing of the cross. Water supports life and symbolizes a renewal and rebirth in Christ, now and in our future. The sign of the cross symbolizes God’s love for us, but also whose life we are now reborn int So, baptism, together with the other holy sacraments, are important outward symbols which are indicative of the internal transformation that occurs throughout a faithful Christian’s lifetime. By entering into these sacraments and ceremonies, we are faithful witnesses within the body of Christ, for all the world to see.
Baptism is a rather complicated process - and not unusual - for a mature baptismal candidate to question: how do I go from being baptised to having faith in Jesus Christ? That’s where you and Christian churches play a key role! The church’s role is to be God’s agent on earth which supports Christians on their faith journey and with their formation. The church achieves its purpose by creating a world-wide Christian community – the body of Christ made up of people like you and I who act as role models for new members - in God’s name. Through public worship, a Christian begins to see the world through God’s eyes: entering into the beauty of holiness, prayer, and through the liturgy; experiencing the Sacraments, learning of God’s word through the reading of the Gospel and Holy Scripture, the Apostle’s Creed and other foundational doctrine.
Equally important, as you already know, or you wouldn’t be sitting out there, is the influence of a faith community on a new Christians. It’s huge! Each member of this faith community has special gifts of spirit to share. I wonder what influence you will have on Omid, or how your baptismal light will shine in his life, … to help him find his truth, to be a witness, to grow in his relationship with Christ? Through the personal testimony of others we hear, and see, how the holy spirit has transformed lives. We find inspiration to grow; courage to change; time, in our lives, for healing and transformation to begin. As a community of faith we pledge to support each other through life’s challenges, to provide a safe place for those who are struggling (physically, emotionally or spiritually). We come to have faith in Christ by putting on the clothing of Christ: charity, love, service to others. In doing so we claim our inheritance as children of Christ. Growing in faith takes time and, for many, the better part of a lifetime to authentically live out one’s baptismal covenant.
I am a perfect example: a cradle Anglican and faithful Christian for decades, but it wasn’t till I was a middle aged adult that I dug deep to discover and honour my calling. This is not unusual. Growing in faith often boils down to the level of intimacy and commitment of the relationship that you are willing to offer up to God, and those in your faith community. If it’s superficial, you won’t go far; but if there is a willingness to open yourself up to spirit, you’ll really go places and a special relationship will blossom and grow with Christ and those with whom you serve. Having faith adds meaning and fulfillment to your life that nothing else can surpass. It’s the one path to spiritual transformation and the redirection of our lives to where we are truly called.
That’s why I’m so happy that, this morning, Omid was baptized into the body of Christ. As, once we are signed with the cross of Christ, we become Christ’s own and have Brothers and Sisters in Christ to lean on, to guide us on our journey of personal transformation. It will take time, there will be risks, leaps and bounds…and a letting go. But if we trust in God, spirit will show us the way; and, our life will be transformed in ways that we could neither ask for, or imagine. AMEN.
The Rev. Juanita Clark