St. Philip’s will mark the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday liturgies on March 5th at 8 a.m., noon, 6:30 p.m., and a service designed for children at 5:30 p.m. in the gathering room upstairs in the parish house. Please plan to participate, as together we begin our journey through Lent toward the resurrection of Easter Day. And please check out the link above, to read some thoughts sparked by children’s Ash Wednesday services of years past.
“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.
The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” (Book of Common Prayer, 298)
These two phrases express the mysterious reality at the heart of the sacrament of baptism: that all baptized persons, regardless how old or young, are members of Christ’s body and ministers of the gospel. All are called to eat and drink at his table, and then to go into the world in peace, to love and to serve the Lord.
I do mean all. If you’re preparing for your infant to be baptized, you may wonder: how can such a young child be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can tiny babies, who can’t walk or talk, really serve the Lord?
They can, and they do. One ministered to me during a Christmas Day Eucharist a couple of years ago. I was at the altar, praying the eucharistic prayer thanking God “for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation…and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son,” when an infant cried aloud. She was an audible sign of the Incarnation, reminding us what Jesus would have sounded like at the beginning of his life: not yet able to speak recognizable words, but already skilled at communicating needs and connecting to her fellow creatures. That baby girl glorified God, and served as a minister of the gospel, simply by being who she is.
Of course, children need guidance as they grow, to understand more fully what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the household of the church. That’s why parents and godparents promise, at baptism, to “be responsible for seeing that the child [they] present is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” to pray for the child, and to be a witness for them to what Christian faith and life look like in practice. And that’s why the community doesn’t leave parents and godparents to do that work alone, but promises to “do all in [our] power to support [those being baptized] in their life in Christ.” All of us do that work of formation trusting that God will guide us, help us, and bless our efforts.
I see the fruit of those efforts when I hear young children, every Sunday, praying the Lord’s Prayer with enthusiasm. They’re proud to have learned the words, and I imagine Jesus smiling along with me at their joy and focus. I see it when children come forward for communion with their hands outstretched, and respond to my “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven” with “Amen.”
But what about when you’re sitting in church with a child who won’t say the prayers and can’t seem to keep still, or with a grouchy teen-ager who’s there under protest? Those moments, more challenging for parents, are another visible sign of God’s grace and a testament to who we are as Christians. We are all forgiven sinners, who come together weekly to celebrate the resurrection, and who support each other daily as we seek to hear Jesus Christ’s call and follow him. No fidgeting, no bad mood, not even a family argument can get in the way of that. Alleluia!
The next two opportunities for you or your child to be baptized are All Saints Sunday, November 3rd, or the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 12th 2014. Please talk to your child’s catechist, to Rhonda, or to our rector, Jonah, if you are considering baptism.
Like many of you, I have no recollection of my own Baptism. I’ve seen pictures – four month old me in a white gown being held by my mom who is sporting a ‘60s bouffant. But that’s pretty much all I knew of my Baptism until I became a catechist. Now I relive and rejoice in my Baptism almost every week.
When we start the lesson on Baptism with the Atrium children, we go back to the verse from Isaiah that we sing so often in Advent. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The children and catechist talk about how long the people waited for that great light God promised. And then the light came into the world – as a small baby named Jesus in a little town called Bethlehem. At this point, we light the Paschal candle.
Then there is a moment where the light seems to disappear from the world for a very short while. But it is doesn’t. It rises and dispels the darkness as we celebrate at Easter. The light of Christ is God’s greatest gift to us, one that can never be extinguished. The children and catechists each light their own candle from the Paschal candle hearing the words, “This is the light of Christ for you. May you walk as a child of the light.”
We revisit Baptism again to look at the other signs of our welcome into the Christian family. Signs like water. The children fill a small basin with water, and we talk about what water does for us in our every day life. It cleans us, it nourishes us, it makes the plants grow, It is essential to our lives. Then we hold our fists over the miniature fount and pour water over it three times – in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit – to represent what is done at our Baptism over our head.
Finally, we open the jar of Chrism (that’s sweet smelling, sticky stuff) and, just like our priests have done for us, we put our strongest finger – the thumb — into the jar and trace the Cross into each other’s forehead, saying, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
I can’t remember my newborn baptism day, but I will always remember the times your children lit my baptismal candle and invited me to walk as a child of the light. I will remember when they pressed the chrism on my head and marked me as Christ’s. Forever.
I ‘m pretty sure the other Cattechists feel the same way. Thank you for the gift of letting us walk with your child this year.
Tomorrow at Pentacost we will welcome another member of St. Philip’s into the family of Christ. Bring your children up close to the fount so they can witness an actual baptism, the one they have recreated so many times in atrium.
May you walk as a child of the light,