103 Palm Sunday Baptism
As we look around this building, there are a number of things we might regard as particularly sacred. We are blessed with these wonderful stained glass windows by Cedar Prest with their rich blue hues and some might consider them particularly sacred. Of course others look to the cross behind the altar and think of that, as the symbol of Jesus offering of himself, that that is particularly sacred. For the more "high church" amongst us, the altar, where the consecration of the sacrament of Holy Communion happens, would be the most sacred object in the building. For the even more "high church" the sacrament (reserved for the sick and those unable to attend worship in the aumbry), is the most sacred object here. So we come to the sacrament of Holy Communion and that is the most sacred moment in the service. For others the most sacred object are the Bibles at the ends of the pews. For others the garden outside where the ashes of loved ones are interred is the most sacred thing here. Some have suggested that I think the organ is the most sacred object. On this Palm Sunday some may think of the palm crosses given out as particularly sacred. It is these palms which are traditionally burned to provide for the ashes for the following Ash Wednesday.
But in reality the most sacred object is none of these things. Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what the most sacred thing is? ... I am glad you said "us" and not "you". I am not, as the ordained person here, any more sacred than anyone else. I am also glad you said "us" because it relieves me of saying "me".
Us - you and I - are the most sacred objects in this building. How do we know? Because Jesus died and rose again for you and for me. That is what the gospel reading for today describes, it is what the creed is all about.
He didn't die and rise for any of these other things - beautiful though they all are. He died for you and for me that we might realise how sacred we are. But we "know" that Jesus died for you and for me, not just because we know he died, because we believe the gospel accounts. We "know" because he continues to tell us that as we come and receive the sacrament of the Holy Communion. Every time we come and receive the Holy Communion, God is saying to us all: "You are the special people for whom I sent Jesus to die and to rise again". God spends his time (if that is not heretical) saying this again and again, giving himself again and again, to us and to all.
Unfortunately the Church sometimes seems to be saying the opposite to this - so we are taught to acknowledge the Altar, genuflect towards the aumbry, or kneel to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In so doing the Church has inadvertently implied that the sacrament of Holy Communion is more sacred than the people for whom Jesus died.
God says precisely the same thing in the baptism service - for we are baptised into his death. And so it is a wonderful occasion to have a baptism, for in amongst all the churchy words, I am not sure that I would want to say I fully understand, we hear God saying to Christopher: "You are the most sacred thing here - I sent Jesus to die and rise again that you might know this." We all need this reassurance again and again. Christopher will need to hear this again and again, for no human love is ever this persistent. It is so easy to be distracted by the prophets of doom and those who would whip us into a frenzy of activity to support this or that cause, ever so religious. We are our own worst enemy.
So little Christopher will be no different a child after his baptism than before. God does not love him more because he is baptised. God loved Christopher from the moment of his conception, and will love him for all eternity; just as God does for each and every individual, whatever colour, gender, race, creed, whether one believes or not, whatever one believes or doesn't believe, whether one speaks in tongues, or forgets God altogether, and however one relates to other people in intimacy. God loves everyone and everyone equally. Baptism is simply an occasion when God tells Christopher how much he loves him. And of course it will not be the last time when God says this.
However it is not altogether true that Christopher will be no different a child after this baptism than before. I am sure that Paul and Carolyn, as will anyone else here who has experienced a human relationship which can be described as "love", the effect on one's life when someone we have regard for has said to us: "I love you".
This baptism service need not be just for Christopher and his family. If we have ears to hear - God is saying to each and everyone of us here: "For all the beautiful and sacred things in and around this building, in fact, you are the most sacred thing in this building for I sent Jesus to die and to rise again for you". This is the sort of God we turn to for that is the sort of empowering love I need in my life and the sort of love I wish all to know.
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