Materials for Worship at Home on 15th January

Nerys writes: On the feast of  Pentecost at the end of May this year, Bishop Ian will join us for a special service where some of you will  affirm for the first time the promises made on your behalf when you were baptised and the rest of us will join in by expressing our faith and our commitment to following Christ. Between now and then,  in preparation for this important day in the life of our church. we will be reflecting together on the sacrament of baptism in order  to deepen our understanding of what it is to be a baptised person.

I wasn’t a great rebel when I was at university. In fact, probably one of the most adventurous things I did with my new-found freedom from parental authority was to regularly leave the hostel in the morning without having dried my hair. Recently, my memories of walking outside with wet hair and my understanding of baptism came together when I stumbled upon the painting by Mike Moyers below. It depicts the moment in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus steps out of the water and walks off in the direction of the wilderness, soaking wet, following the Spirit’s call.

I suppose the water from the baptism Jesus received from John would have evaporated very quickly in the heat of the Mediterranean sun, but the gifts he received from God on that day were to accompany and empower him on his journey to the Cross and beyond. As he submitted himself to the water, God responded by filling him with the Holy Spirit,  and by naming his identity, affirming his relationship as God’s beloved child.

Baptism for Jesus was not a one-off event but a two-way, life-long process. This is true of our baptism also. Most of us won’t have any memory of it, but we are all on a journey that started at the font on that particular day. Like Jesus, we have God’s Spirit as our companion and guide, and, if we listen, we can still hear God’s claim on us echoing down the years: ‘You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

After we are baptised, life  can still be a wilderness at times, full of confusion, disappointment, pain and  loneliness. Our baptism does not spare us from difficulty, but it does help us deal with it in different ways.

At our baptism, our story becomes part  of the story of all the  people of God and of the whole of creation. In the baptismal prayer of our church, that biblical story is told from the beginning, when God’s spirit moved over the face of the waters. We are reminded of the times when God used the gift of water to nourish his people, transforming deserts into gardens, when God calmed the wildness of the waves, put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of hope, and parted the Red Sea to lead his children from slavery to freedom. Our baptism has brought us into this ancient story of God’s dealings with humanity, a story through which we can make sense of our lives and of the world.

In baptism we also become part God’s Church so that we are never alone on our journey. In the account of his baptism in today’s Gospel passage, John 1.29-42, the first thing we see Jesus doing as soon as he steps out of the water is to call a group of people together to walk with him.  One of the striking changes between the life of the prophet whose longe voice is heard in our Old Testament reading, Isaiah 49.1-7, and the Corinthian Christians Paul greets in the New Testament reading, 1 Corinthians 1.1-9, is the gift of the Church. When we are baptised, we enter into a spirit-filled community who share in God’s calling, who witness and serve together and who learn from one other  as well as from God.

Baptism is a visible sign of an invisible reality. It is a sign that points to the nature and work of God and the means by which we are adopted into God’s family. It is also a seal, a guarantee that God keeps God’s promises to us. At baptism we are given a new identity as God’s own children. We enter into a new life with Christ. The apostles and the church fathers used images of rebirth, washing clean, and dying and rising again to express in their writings the work of baptism in our lives.  At times when I feel myself drifting away from God, I remind myself of the fact that I have been baptised. I imagine the water of baptism still clinging to my hair, I feel its freshness on my skin,  I see the droplets glistening as I walk, and I remember that I am unconditionally loved. I know that no matter how far I have wandered, through God’s amazing grace, I can return, I can have a new start, be born again, washed clean, raised with Christ and filled once more with God’s spirt of love.

I hope that today and in the weeks to come, you will join me in praying for those who are intending to affirm their baptismal promises at Pentecost and that you will also take time to recall your own baptism and consider what it means to you. I invite you now to reflect on the painting of Jesus’ Baptism above and also on the beautiful Prayer for the Affirmation of Baptism, (SEC 2006) slightly adapted to include us all.

God of mercy and love,
new birth by water and the Spirit is your gift,
a gift none can take away;
grant that we may grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
Fill us with the joy of your presence.
Increase in us the fruit of your Spirit:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of love, patience and gentleness,
the spirit of wonder and true holiness.

Come, Creator Spirit, rekindle in us your gifts of grace,
to love and serve as a disciple of Christ.
Renew our life in Christ
and bring to completion all that your calling has begun.
Empower us  to bring life to the world.

Living God, sustain us and all your people
to be hope and strength to the world;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,  t
o whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be honour and glory, now and for ever.