Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia
How many of you were baptized as a baby? But have you heard a story about it?
Sometimes, you hear a story so often, you can start to remember it for yourself. That’s how the Bible works; it tells stories so often, it’s like we are there. Remember that time that Mary thought he was the gardener…
So, place yourself in this story. It’s 300 years after the resurrection. And you have come to be baptized. You come in the middle of night, with your sponsor, not necessarily your family, because your family might not like what you are doing. In 300 AD, it is illegal to be a Christian. But you have dared. There is something here that you want. And you are willing to risk your life for this life.
The first thing you do, you change your clothes. You dress in a white robe. Like this robe. Stand up, if you’re able. I’m going to walk you through this story. Ready? Put on your white robe.
Now, turn around. Stand with your back to the cross. It’s the middle of the night. Stand facing the darkness, facing everything you are about to leave behind. Out there, out that door by the kitchen are the things that draw you from the way of Jesus, what you have done, and what has been done to you. Out there are your addictions, your fears, your limits, grudges, small mindedness. The can’ts, the won’ts, the never haves. What has prevented you from following the way of Jesus?
You are asked three questions. You respond, I renounce them.
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce the evil powers of the world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God? I renounce them.
Three more questions. This time you answer, I do.
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? I do.
So do that now, turn around. Face the cross.
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? I do.
Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? I do.
Now you are taken to a pool of water. You stand at the edge, with steps leading down. On the edge of the pool, more questions. What will be the new way that you look at the world? In other words, What do you believe is real?
We’re going to sing this part. Listen to me sing the first verse. Then we’ll start again. Just follow my lead.
Well then, what is that going to mean? How will you live the life that follows from your commitment to follow Jesus?
This is the way we ask that today. And your answer is I will with God’s help.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will with God’s help.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will with God’s help.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will with God’s help.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will with God’s help.
Okay then, take your first step. Move your feet. Wade in the water. Feel it on your toes. Did somebody remember to warm it, or is it cold?
Now take another step into the pool. Imagine, you are up to your knees in water. Now another step, your hips.
Go ahead and be seated. The water rises to your neck.
This is it. It’s time. Take a deep breath and go under. Your hair floats, your ears fill up. The sound changes. You can barely hear my voice. The water washes away the past, washes away those things you have done, things done to you, your addictions, fears, whatever has held you back from our Lord, washes away your shackles. Blow out your breath. All the old is gone, even the old air is gone. It is time to be reborn.
Lift your head from the water. It’s the breath of new life. Can you smell spring in the air?
When you rise out of the pool, that robe streaming, the bishop approaches with a flask of oil. Not a little dab to make a sign of the cross on your forehead. This is a honkin’ big flask poured over your head, dripping off your forehead, oil running into your ears. What?
See that is the way that kings and queens are made. They are anointed. And you have become the daughter, you have become the son of God, the Almighty Lord Creator. Sister, brother to the High King of Heaven, Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one.
What does that make you? Do you know? Sister, brother to the High King of Heaven? You are a prince, you are a princess in the kingdom of God. Raise your head! Live with dignity. As you walk out in the world, you are a prince; you are a princess. You represent the kingdom of your brother, the High King of Heaven.
Now, as that flask of oil is still dripping to your shoulders, the bishop – pours out another one! Did you think you were finished? Oil is how we make a priest, like Jesus the Christ, the Great High Priest. And you, all of you are priests.
I mean it. What do priests do? ABC, we absolve, we bless, we consecrate. That is what you do when you go out from here to represent Jesus, the Great High Priest.
Absolve. Christians forgive. In a world of insult followed by insult, grudge piled on grudge, push comes to shove, we proclaim freedom from all that mess. We forgive. We make peace.
Bless. In a world of distrust and “protect my own,” we proclaim the blessing, grace upon grace, the lavish love of God for all God’s creatures for whom our Lord was willing to come down here and give his life. We bless those whom God has blessed.
Consecrate. In a world that degrades, devalues, makes cheap, we make holy. Here at this table, at the coffee hour table, at the dinner table, we break bread, and we create community, the Body of Christ, as we share our bread. Consecrate. We name the sacred. The Christ in me reaches to the Christ in you. The Christ in you reaching to the next person you see today.
All of us, the priesthood of all believers. The baptism of the fourth century is your baptism, too. 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.
So rise up, fellow priests, princes and princesses in the kingdom of God. Let us pray together, and then let us share with one another the sign of our baptism.
photo of baptism by Malaura Jarvis, used with permission
photo of candle by anonymous, used under Creative Commons license
photo of Baptistry in Emmaus Nicopolis, Israel by Avishai Teicher, in public domain
crown detail Priestergestoelte - Ter Apel, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, used under Creative Commons license
photo of bagels and coffee by cyclonebill, a Flickr photo used under Creative Commons license