Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: The Baptism of Christ

First Sunday after the Epiphany
10 January 2021
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

Whilst I was a chaplain at Sherborne, I was responsible for the School Confirmation Service

It was a very large undertaking with approximately fifty boys being confirmed each year and took an immense amount of organisation

It was naturally a very joyful event, but at the end of the service, I would remind the boys to keep their confirmation certificates safe as they would require them for ordination

Most of the boys looked puzzled and so did most of their parents

However, I was making a serious point

Confirmation is part of our spiritual journey and marks a point where the adult is able to make profession of faith for themselves

Indeed, that deepening of their faith may lead to ordination

However, at the same time, this means that confirmation is linked to baptism which, in turn, marks the very beginning of our faith journey

This Sunday is all about beginnings

It is the first Sunday after Christmas

The beginning of the liturgical year after the festivities that surround the holy birth

A year where we will, hopefully, see the back of the pandemic but where we still have so much further to travel

At the same time, we begin a new political chapter

Leaving the European Union and striking out into a new and unknown future confident in our own exceptionalism

But as well as our social and political lives we also have a spiritual life

And perhaps it is appropriate therefore that we remind ourselves at the beginning of the New Year of the Baptism of Christ

This is the start of Christ’s adult ministry where he prepared himself for the journey that lay ahead

But as well as Christ’s journey into the world, it is also a time to be reminded of our own baptism and what that means for our life

Whatever our age and condition

This is however a difficult questions

I am always struck by the words of Jesus at the end of Matthews Gospel where he instructs the disciples to

“Go and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28: 18-20)

However, Jesus gives us no further exposition as to what baptism means for our lives

As with so much else, we are left to puzzle this out for ourselves

St Paul set about trying to make sense of baptism almost at the outset

In his letter to the Colossians (2:12), he explains that baptism symbolises the mystical burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ

“When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him in faith”

As such, we put on Christ and become members of his body the Church

The former Archbishop of Canterbury suggests that this “putting on of Christ” makes us, above all, Messianic

Which he breaks down into three distinct elements – the prophetic, priestly and the royal

It is often forgotten that by being baptised as Christians we become a royal priesthood

As the Apostle Peter said

You are aroyal priesthood…his own special peoplethat you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; (1 Peter 2: 9)

Because we become children of God through Baptism, we are granted our freedom in Christ

As Rowan Williams put it

“We are sovereign with Christ – free of the powers of class, ideology and nationality”

Only in Christ, do we exercise true sovereignty

Secondly, baptism makes us priestly at the same time

At first blush, this may seem rather confusing

We have priests and we have the laity and, if we are not careful, we can live separate lives

But of course we do nothing of the sort

Amongst other things, a priest is charged with putting together a broken world and this responsibility extends to all the baptized

We are charged, as the baptised people of God, to put together the brokenness between the Creator and Creation

To be frank – we have broken our planet and we now need to put it back together

We are also charged with putting together the brokenness between human beings

Coming out of Brexit, we are fractured Society, racked with political and economic divisions

There could not be a more important time to be reminded of our baptism and what it means for our lives

Finally, Baptism calls us to be prophetic

This is not just about speaking out – although that can be an integral part of prophetic ministry

As Rowan Williams put it

It is about “patiently and steadily recalling the whole community to its own integrity”

It is so easy for a Society to lose its bearings

In my own field, I have to remind Society that we have tortured our enemies

It is a narrative few want to hear and, symptomatic of our times, we have created a different narrative that is more palatable instead

It happens in all walks of life – In our hospitals, schools, churches and politics

But the baptised in Christ should be saying to each other in this New Year

“Don’t forget who we are in Christ”?

Our prophetic role as the baptised people of Christ is to restore the integrity of the community

This is a challenge to us all at the beginning of 2021

In essence, and taking all three together, we need to let the identity of Jesus Christ come alive in our own identity

We need to ask ourselves at the beginning of this year, how we let the identity of Jesus Christ become our identity?

Going forward – how will we let the identity of Jesus Christ become our identity both as individuals and as a society in 2021?

Returning to my opening remarks and our journey of faith through this world

We should all strive to grow in faith in our earthly lives

Baptism – Confirmation and even Ordination

And there is no better time to be reminded of this than at the beginning of the year

However, like ordinations vows, it is always invaluable to return to first principles

Reminding ourselves as to how far we have drifted from our moorings

However, I chose the Epistle this morning because it reminds us all, in the light of our baptismal vows, how we should ideally present ourselves before God

And this alone should guide us all through the year

“I BESEECH you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God