The Revd Margaret Legg
Easter Day is a wonderful day for Baptism! Baptism is a dipping, a dipping into the darkness of Jesus suffering and a coming up, a rising, symbolic of the resurrection, cleansed, and your life reshaped.
Symbolised in your lowering into the font and rising with wet hair and dripping face. Symbolised by the pitch black at the start of the service broken by the entry of the lit Easter candle: the light of Christ, the light of God’s love and glory, breaking into the darkness of the world (echoes of the very beginning of John’s Gospel).
Be glad this is not the early church! Back in the day, your preparation would have involved up to 3 years of instruction, and you would have been known as catechumens – people receiving instruction- and hearers of the Word – because you would have had to leave the service after the sermon, (The Ministry of the Word). Only the Baptised were allowed to remain for the rest of the Service!
There would have been a particularly rigorous preparation and discipline over the last week - Holy Week – and, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, prayers, fasts, bendings of the knee, and vigils all the night through (Tertullian On Baptism c.200). Then immediately before your Baptism, you would have been extensively interrogated and then ‘thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction’, (oil of exorcism) for which you would have been stripped of all your clothes! A bit like soaping yourself all over before showering. + Richard’s quip that you would have been made slippery all over so the devil could not get a grip on you! No wonder a woman, a Deaconess, would have baptised you! Then you would have been totally immersed in running cold water.
So your Baptism would not, of course, have taken place inside church, and you would have popped on a simple slip, before entering church and for the first time joined the congregation to pray, receive the kiss of peace and celebrate the Eucharist.
Quite a major reshaping of the Catechumens’ life! These days we are more restrained, the anointing is on the forehead only – a sign of the cross – but the Oil, blessed by the Bishop on Maundy Thursday, is still known as the Oil of Catechumen. Instruction continues during next 7 days (did Robin mention this?)
But Baptism essentially has not changed – it still signifies the new shape of our life. What does this mean? Paul describes it as being alive to God in Christ Jesus. Three ways to explain this:
A life with a new shape has a new centre, Christ centred rather than self-centred. A new centre that we can trust in good times and bad, who will never desert us but will stand with us through the ups and downs of life. Because he himself has been through thick and thin, betrayed by his friend, deserted by his friends, arrested, tortured, crucified and come out the other side, alive and well, as we celebrate today, he is the perfect companion. He has been into the depths – on Good Friday – showing God’s love from the darkness of the cross. That means for us that with God’s love, in Christ Jesus is at our centre.
So we need not be afraid to look at the depths and darkness in our own lives and in the world, because God’s love is there too, holding us and strengthening us. And God’s spirit is there too, to refresh us and help us to grow again, to grow into the person God means us to be.
A life with a new shape speaks of new beginnings. When we get muddled, make mistakes, get it wrong, as we all do from time to time, there is a way out. Forgiveness received at the start of each service, when we confess together; forgiveness because God’s love and power is stronger than anything else, stronger than the worst humans can do. They killed Jesus and the crucified Christ came back to life!
A life with a new shape has new responsibilities. We are baptised individually, because God knows us as individuals. He knows our inner thoughts, hopes and dreams. We are baptised by name. He calls each of us by name. Mary turned from the empty tomb, distraught, bereft, bewildered. Had the tomb been robbed? The body stolen? Jesus on the other hand is perfectly clear. He knows exactly who she is and what he wants her to do. He calls her by name. Mary! He gives her a job, a responsibility. And each of us, we all have jobs to do for him. Elderly relatives to care for, housebound neighbours to visit, to be generous with our time and attention; to stick up for the weak – if someone’s getting bullied, or excluded.
Although at the moment, Mobley and Esme, as mothers of young children, your responsibilities are pretty clear!! And very demanding! But just as you know your own children inside out, can read their minds and anticipate what they are going to get up to, so God in Christ Jesus knows each of us and loves us and is reshaping our lives, painfully perhaps, slowly maybe, and always in love. Shaping us for the time when we too will, like Mary, see the Lord in the fullness of eternity.
Christ is risen – he is risen indeed. Allelujah!