Today at noon we will baptise three young people: Liam, 9, Hally, 7, and Marshall, 5, and I’ve been wondering what to say to them about what they are doing, the ceremony they’re part of, the gifts that it offers, the new community they’re joining.
How can I say something they might understand and remember, as well as speak to the people who are gathering to celebrate the gift this family wishes to share, people who might not know the ways of the church, who might see this as a colourful and archaic ritual. Like the psalmist says, how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? And here’s what I decided to say:
What we’re doing today is telling a story, about one person, about every person, and about the whole universe.
The one person was a man named Jesus: he lived a long way from here about two thousand years ago, and when he grew up he told some stories and taught some lessons and healed some people and shared food and hope and love in a world where there wasn’t much of that around. He seemed to live like there was more than enough, and that the liveliest thing that he, or anybody, could do was to keep sharing food and hope and love, and not worry about it too much. He lived like that was the easiest, truest, most joyful way to live and to love life for each person, for every person, for the whole universe.
And even when the people who were worried about many things told him he better be careful, he went on sharing food, hope, love like it couldn’t end. So some other people decided to kill him, partly because when people start giving like that, the world gets bigger, and gifts like food and hope and love can start people doing new things, going in different ways, and that can be dangerous for people who want the world to be the same as it ever was.
So they killed him, tried to wipe him away from life, from everyone’s memory, so that nothing would remain, and it didn’t work. Because of the simple truth, the deepest fact, that this kind of love lasts. It wasn’t long before a few people said they had seen him alive, others said that he had somehow gotten past death. some said he was still sharing like before, now even more, and it was as if his very breath was breathing everywhere, was willing to show up in everyone, and a few people, then more, then millions, tried to breathe life the way he did in sharing food and hope and love.
It’s changed the world for the last few thousand years, sometimes it’s been like a great big party, sometimes like a really bad committee meeting, but there are still a bunch of people who are trying, as best they can, to share food, hope and love.
So even though this Jesus is not around like he was two thousand years ago, he’s still here, in stories told, gatherings held, food, hope and loved shared, really in every moment and every breath in the heart of everyone — he still breathes this love of live, this life of love, for each of us and for more than everyone. Because he was, he is, a gift to remind us of what we deep down are: born of love, born to hope, born to share food; food for thought, for nourishment, for inspiration, to be part of a body bringing healing and hope to the whole creation.
Because that’s what we were created to be; and we forget that, get lost in other stories, worry about many things, forget who we are, where we come from, what we’re to do: which is mystery and meaning and justice and joy and shared food and wine and life that is so much bigger than all our understanding and any kind of death that it is almost beyond belief.
But it is in telling the stories, sharing the journey, the hope and healing, the bread and wine, the new and renewing loving life that Jesus said is in the heart of everything, that we experience what life and God is, even now.
So we come together to put these three people on that path, Liam, Hally, and Marshall, in that party, towards that purpose, this morning, and to pray that they may keep this kind of hope and love in their lives from here on out. This will be the first time they are washed and wiped and renewed and refreshed in their new community, and, as with any kind of love, we hope it will not be the last.
So that’s what i am telling them. It’s true, though not the whole truth, but i hope it’s true enough to welcome them to the party and give them a taste for travelling together on this journey, but, if you've been around the church for awhile, for some days, when God’s Advent comes, it’s often not easy.
For when seasons change it can be difficult, December, Advent, (to say nothing of Christmas), moving into summer, the last few weeks of the year as well can all be demanding, and finally, next Friday evening and Sunday morning and afternoon this congregation and the diocese will farewell Fr Michael, (and Kerryn, Nicholas, and Angela) after a decade serving as the Dean of this Cathedral, and as beloved members and ministers of this community. So many endings and beginnings, so many places where life turns a corner and a new journey emerges, so many moments when life asks a question, and the lessons for today asks formidable questions of an open future that can feel like death and birth, ending and beginning, to take us to larger answers in order to start again.
Isaiah sees a future that opens room for delight: a vision of ecological wholeness and holiness, a place of prayer, justice, wisdom, compassion, a kingdom of peace to which the nations stream
But the Gospel leads us to a demanding future where, instead of reconciliation, there may be separation, instead of a field seeded or a meal prepared, one will be taken and one will be left, and there is no way to prepare, but none the less, the lesson says, be ready.
And finally good old Paul gives us hope for the present: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”
Even nearer now. And how can we, as the baptised body of Christ, be present to this wide open future? How can we prepare for this beginning, this Advent, this coming Christmas, the new year, once again.
Dom Gregory Dix, in his classic book, The Shape of the Liturgy, says that the Eucharist we share has four parts: take, bless, break and share. Since the Eucharist is also a pattern of the countless ways in which God reaches out in love to embrace the whole creation, we take Eucharist here to allow that fourfold pattern to permeate our whole lives.
So take your questions, the old memories, the new pain, the unknown future, the wanting faith, and present them all to God as an offering, lift up your life and let God bless it, share it with family and friends, and let their light and love lift it up too with thanksgiving as an offering. Then, knowing yourself to be surrounded by such a company of family and friends and with all the company of heaven, break apart the gift God gives you, look to it with faith, and let it be a message of hope and meaning for yourself and others
For I am convinced that every moment of life contains seeds of heaven, gifts of God, of hope, love and light, and that we are called to share these moments where life asks living questions and offers new answers in the midst of our lives, where we are called to celebrate these new beginnings, to share food and hope and love, to make Eucharist as the gathered body of Christ.
What a gift that life can be this big, what a gift that love can come so close. May the blessings of this advent season be upon each of us, and may Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon us all. Amen.