Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A blessing at baptism


Patrick Comerford

Welcome

Grace, mercy and peace
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
be with you all
and also with you.

Explanation of the Sacrament

What a wonderful gathering this is this evening!

I was disappointed this morning to learn that this is not the first Baptism in this chapel. But we can claim this evening that this is the first Baptism in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Well, we are working our way through the services of the Book of Common Prayer since the beginning of term … Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Litany, the Holy Communion, the Service for Ash Wednesday … Those services take us through from page 7 to page 338. And this evening, at last, we have arrived at page 346 and so on …

When the Book of Common Prayer was going through the final stages of editing and approval, some critics asked why we started off with so much, and did not start off immediately with the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

But I think we should have started the prayer book with the Sacrament of Baptism – because baptism is the foundational sacrament of the Church; it is what makes the Church. And every other act of public worship of the Church depends on this first sacrament.

Two generations ago, in any theological college like this on these islands, we might have had debates on obtuse theological points about baptismal regeneration. A generation ago, that debate might have been about the merits of adult or believer’s Baptism because so many people were simply using Baptism as a way of naming a child. The word “christening” simply meant welcoming a child into the family, with a name.

“Christening” still equals “naming” in many parts of Ireland. One Muslim friend was very hurt recently when a receptionist insisted on asking him to fill out an admission form with his “Christian name.”

Today, most of us understand that there is more to baptism than those debates would have allowed us to think. And we can all agree, no matter what differences there are about baptism in the different traditions of the Church, that baptism is the foundational sacrament of the Church.

In Baptism, Christ incorporates us into his body, which, in its visible form on earth is found in the Baptised people and in the sacrament of the Holy Communion that the baptised people celebrate as one body.

Put plainly, without Baptism there is no Church. And it is not we who baptise, but Christ who incorporates us into the Church, into the Body of Christ.

Even today, many of us are worried about the number of people who use Baptism as a naming ceremony or ritual. There was a debate on the Ryan Tubridy Show this morning about the merits of having a baby baptised a week or two after birth, which was the traditional Irish way of “christening” or naming a baby, or waiting for a few months until the mother was fit and well and strong enough to party the whole evening out.

But we are not here this evening to name Evelyn Rose Heffelfinger … her parents and grandparents already know and love her as Evie. Nor are we here to “christen” her.

We are here today to rejoice that Evie is being incorporated into the Body of Christ. This the wish of her parents, this is the wish of all of us, this is the wish of the Church, this is Christ’s own wish for her, and as they bring her up and as they take responsibility for her spiritual nurture and growth, her parents and godparents will hopefully bring her to see this as her own wish for herself.

The Book of Common Prayer rightly talks about baptism as the beginning of a journey with God that continues for the rest of our lives as we journey as pilgrim people. This is the first step in the response to God’s love. Evie’s baptism this evening should be a reminder to each and every one of us that we are still called to step out, to walk out, to move forward in that pilgrim journey … like called or chosen children moving through the waters towards God’s goal for us.

There is no Church of Ireland Baptism, there is no Methodist Baptism, there is no Roman Catholic or Presbyterian Baptism. There is only Christian Baptism, which is a call to rejoice and to dance in our covenant with God.

And because there are so many covenants between Methodist Churches and Anglican Churches around the world, it is particularly pleasing that Katie and Jamie have chosen to have Evie baptised here … apart from this being a place where Katie works and where Katie and Jamie know their families are part of one bigger family, can I also ask whether the Methodist Churches have a better Anglican friend than Maurice?

And because there is only Christian Baptism, not separate denominational or connectional Baptisms, it is good that the faith communities that have welcomed Katie, Jamie and Evie to Ireland are represented here too.

Among them, of course, are the Revd Derek Sargent of the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the Church of Ireland parish church in Clontarf, Clontarf parishioners, the Revd Julian Hamilton of the Dublin Central Mission, and friends from Abbey Street Methodist Church.

But as we go through this Baptism service with Evie you will also notice that there are prayers, thoughts and influences from other religious traditions too … Anglican, Methodist – why, even Russian Methodist and American Methodist – Mennonite and even Jewish.

And that is appropriate too. Not just because Evie’s mother is an Old Testament scholar, but because there is a continuity in our covenantal relationship with God, who calls us out, through the waters of the covenant, to be free to worship God, and to be in an intimate relationship with God.

Yes, let us party. Yes, let us rejoice. Yes, let us delight in Evie’s new names. Yes, let us congratulate Katie and Jamie and their families. But, yes, let us all be reminded also that we being many are one body for we all share in the one waters of Baptism.

The Baptism of Christ ... El Greco

The Dismissal

God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness
and has given us a place with the saints in light.

You have received the light of Christ;
walk in this light all the days of your life.
Shine as a light in the world
to the glory of God the Father.


Go in peace to love and serve the Lord:
In the name of Christ. Amen.