Sunday, 12 January 2020

What would the promise of
a new beginning, a new
creation, mean for us today?

A stained-glass window depicting the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist in the Church of Saint John the Baptist, Peterborough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 12 January 2020

The First Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany I)


11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer 2, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

The Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10: 34-43; Matthew 3: 13-17.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Baptism of Christ … a stained glass window in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The three traditional events in the life of Christ that are associated with Epiphany are:

1, The visit of the Magi, which we recalled last Sunday in Tarbert and on Monday in Askeaton

2, The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist in the River Jordan, which we read about this morning

3, The miracle at the Wedding in Cana.

The Gospel reading this morning (Matthew 3: 13-17) tells us of the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist. It marks the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, but it also presents Christ as the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets and presenting this Epiphany event as a new creation.

This is a Sunday that is also an appropriate opportunity, at the beginning of a new year, to think about the meaning of our own Baptismal promises.

Saint John the Baptist is at the River Jordan, calling the people to repentance, to turn back to God’s ways, to return the way of life to which the people committed themselves in the Covenant with God.

And this leads us to the Baptism of Christ, which is an Epiphany or Theophany moment, and it is a Trinitarian moment.

At first, Saint John tries to dissuade Christ from being baptised. But Christ insists, he wishes to fulfil the Father’s will; this Baptism shows Christ’s continuity with God’s will that has been revealed through the Law and the Prophets.

The words spoken by the voice from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’ (verse 17) sound like the words of Isaiah in our first reading: ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights’ (Isaiah 42: 1).

Christ is the Suffering Servant, the messenger of God, who will suffer for others. He is God’s Son, chosen for ministry to God’s people, and he prepares his people for the coming crisis.

In this Gospel story, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit come together, acting as one, with distinctive personal roles: when Christ is baptised, heaven opens, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ ‘in bodily form like a dove.’ And the voice of the Father comes from heaven declaring: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3: 17).

This Gospel reading is also the story of a new beginning in every sense of the meaning.

After the waters are parted, and Christ emerges, just as the waters are separated, earth and water are separated, and then human life emerges as in the Creation story in Genesis (see Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 3).

Here too the Holy Spirit appears over the waters (see Genesis 1: 2), and God says ‘I am well pleased,’ just as God sees that every moment of creation is good (see Genesis 1: 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and with the creation of humanity it becomes ‘very good.’

Saint John tells the people that the Kingdom of God is near, that the time has come for the fulfilment of God’s promises to people. A new era is arriving, when God rules.

This morning’s Gospel story is also a reminder of our own Baptisms, and it is the story of a new creation.

The Baptism of Christ is about new beginnings for each of us individually and for us collectively as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.

But this Gospel reading also poses two sets of questions for me.

My first set of questions begins by asking:

● What would a parting of the waters and the promise of a new beginning, a new creation, mean for us today?

● Do we believe that what God has made is ‘very good’?

● Are we responsible when it comes to the care of the creation that has been entrusted to us?

And my second set of questions begins:

● What would a parting of the waters and the promise of a new beginning mean for people caught as refugees in the cold waters of the Mediterranean or in the English Channel between France and England in this winter weather?

● Would they be able to believe in the hope that is offered at Epiphany?

It is at the very end of the creation cycle, after the creation and separation of the waters, when God has created us in human form, that God pronounces not just that it is good, but that it is very good.

So, this morning, instead of standing to affirm our faith in the words of the Creed, while we are still conscious of being at the beginning of a New Year, we are going to reaffirm the promises made on our behalf at our Baptism.

In our Baptism promises, we not only affirm our faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we also promise to be faithful in our prayer life, in our sacramental life, as members of the Church and the Body of Christ, to resist evil, to show our faith in word and deed, to serve all people, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to pray for the world and its leaders, to defend the weak and to seek peace and justice.

In responding to our promises at Baptism, we take responsibility for creation and for humanity. Those responsibilities are inseparable. They are at the heart of the Epiphany stories if we show that we truly believe that the best is yet to come.

And may all we think say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a fifth century mosaic in the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Matthew 3: 13-17 (NRSVA):

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

The Baptism of Christ … a stained glass window in Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: White.

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
Grant to us, who are born of water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

Almighty God,
who anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit
and revealed him as your beloved Son:
inspire us, your children,
who are born of water and the Spirit,
to surrender our lives to your service,
that we may rejoice to be called your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Blessing:

Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

‘The voice of the Lord is upon the waters’ (Psalm 29: 3) … the Triptych (1999) of the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

[See The Book of Common Prayer, pp 398-401]

A form which may be used at Easter, Pentecost, the Baptism of our Lord, on Ash Wednesday, at the close of a mission or on other suitable occasions.

The renewal of baptismal vows may be made at Morning or Evening Prayer, or at Holy Communion after the sermon, and the creed may be omitted. The prayers of intercession and of penitence may be omitted.


The minister says:

In our baptism we died with Christ and were buried with him, so that we might rise with him to a new life within the family of his Church.

We now meet to renew the promises made at our baptism, to affirm our allegiance to Christ and our rejection of all that is evil.

Stand

The minister says:


Do you renew and affirm the promises made when you were baptised?
I do.

Do you turn in faith to Christ?
I do.

Do you then renounce all evil?
I do, by God’s help.

Will you obey and serve Christ?
I will, by God’s help.

Do you believe and trust in God the Father,
creator of heaven and earth?
I believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in his Son Jesus Christ,
who redeemed the world?
I believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in the Holy Spirit
who gives life to the people of God?
I believe and trust in him.

This is the faith of the Church.
This is our faith.
We believe and trust in one God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


The minister continues:

Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you persevere in resisting evil,
and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you proclaim by word and example
the good news of God in Christ?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all people,
loving your neighbour as yourself?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you acknowledge Christ's authority over human society,
by prayer for the world and its leaders,
by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?
With the help of God, I will.

The minister says:

Let us pray.

Almighty God,
you have given us the will to do all these things:
Give us the courage and strength to achieve them
to the honour and glory of your name,
and the good of your Church and people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith,
that you may be rooted and grounded in love
and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.

The Baptism of Christ depicted in a bronze bas-relief by António Teixeira Lopes in the Baptistery in Porto Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8)
204, When Jesus came to Jordan (CD 13)

An icon of the Baptism of Christ, worked on a cut of olive wood by Eleftheria Syrianoglou, in a recent exhibition in the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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