Baptism: Sacrament of Hope and New Beginnings

What a great celebration we are having here today! A baptism…confirmations…an ordination…and the Eucharist! If we could just find someone out there who wants to get married, we could just about do it all this morning! And how wonderful it is, that these major milestones are being celebrated during the season of Advent – the season of hope and of new beginnings.

I think one of the reasons we love Advent so is that it is that kind of season. We see hope and new beginnings promised in each of our readings from Holy Scripture this morning: Isaiah promises his exiled people that, when they return home “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom…” (Isaiah 35:1). Hope and a new beginning for his people!

James knows how excited and hopeful his dispersed flock of new Christians are and so he tells them that they must “Be patient…until the coming of the Lord.” As patient as “the farmer wait(ing) for the precious crop from the earth.” (James 5:7) Farmers are all about hope and new beginnings…they have to be!

And Jesus promises his ragtag audience of poor and hungry and weeping and marginalized people (the same audience that flocked to John the Baptist) that – as great at John was – they are even greater in God’s eyes!(Matthew 11:2 ff) Once again – a promise of hope and a new beginning for people who desperately needed to hear that good news!

In many ways, the most important sacrament we will be celebrating here this morning is the baptism. For baptism is, above all else, the sacrament of hope and of new beginnings. When we baptize Jane today it will be in a spirit of hope and of a new beginning. Indeed, this whole congregation will say, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP 308) That is our hope for her new beginning!

Right after we lay hands on those who will be confirmed today, I will pray “Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their Baptism. Send them forth in the power of the Spirit to perform the service you set before them.” (BCP 418) That’s our hope for their new beginnings today!

And just after Jonathon is ordained to the transitional diaconate, we will ask God to “make him…modest and humble, strong and constant, to observe the discipline of Christ (that) his life and teaching (may) so reflect (God’s) commandments, that through him many may come to know you and (to) love you.” (BCP 545) That is our hope for his new beginning!

It’s truly wonderful that we are celebrating all of these sacraments here today and that we can see them all together – because they are all interrelated and they all grow out of the primary Sacrament we celebrate today – Baptism! My dear friend, the late Bishop Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan, had a powerful way of reminding himself (and the rest of us) of that in his office.

While most of us clergy have our walls filled with college and seminary diplomas and ordination certificates and the like, Jim just had one large, beautifully framed certificate hanging on his wall – his Baptismal Certificate! It was his way of reminding us that, in many ways, the most important thing that will ever happen to us is our baptism. Because, as the Prayer Book reminds us, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” (BCP 298)

Full initiation! We need nothing else! Confirmation allows us to own that great reality for ourselves and make a mature commitment to the promises we made, or were made on our behalf, at baptism. Ordination sets apart individuals to “carry on the apostolic work of leading, supervising, and uniting the Church…of preaching the Word of God and administering (the) holy Sacraments.” (BCP 510)

But we’re not talking hierarchy here. The Church is not a pyramid with bishops on the top, priests and deacons next, and lay people on the bottom. The Church is best seen as a circle, with Christ at the center, and all the ministries – lay person, bishops, priests, deacons, pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets – all these ministries distributed around the circumference of the wheel and all empowered by the grace of God coming to us through Word and Prayer and Sacrament.

So we’re involved in a great work here this morning, dear friends. I’m so glad each and every one of you are here to take your part. As you come to the Table today to receive the very Being and Life of Christ in the Eucharist, remember that the word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” This is our Thanksgiving Meal!

And surely, we have a lot to give thanks for…today!

 

 

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