Death-defying, life-giving God, stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism.
When I was in high school, my best friend’s dad used to take us out for these outrageous birthday dinners in Boston’s Chinatown. He knew the restaurant owner and would just ask him to plan the whole thing out. Dish after dish after dish, they just kept coming. Just when you think there cannot possibly be any more, there’s more. That’s how I feel about this morning. It’s barely 7 am, the sun is barely risen, and we are midway through an extravagant feast, a feast of stories, prayers, music, water, and light, all of those things overlapping with each other. A feast of praise and a feast of renewal.
So how do we respond to this feast? The words that reverberate in me this morning are from the prayer we prayed a few minutes ago: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption.
Every year on this great baptismal feast we hear St. Paul’s words: We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life. Baptism is our adoption ceremony. This adoption into new life binds us to resurrection.
John Westerhoff, a much-loved Anglican educator, tells the story of baptism in a rural Latin American village.1 This story is not for the faint of heart.
The community of faith is gathered; they recall God’s gracious acts, just as we have done tonight; they proclaim the Gospel, just as we have done tonight. And now they are about to make a response. The congregation begins the mournful sounds of a funeral hymn as a solemn procession moves down the aisle. A father carries a child’s coffin he has made from wood; a mother carries a bucket of water from the family well; a priest carries their sleeping infant wrapped only in a native blanket. As they reach the chancel, the father places the coffin on the altar, the mother pours the water in the coffin and the priest covers the wakening baby’s skin with embalming oil. The singing softens to a whisper. The priest slowly lowers the infant into the coffin and immerses the child’s head in the water. As he does so, he exclaims, “You are drowned in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “Amen!” shout the parents and the congregation. Then quickly lifting the child into the air for all to see, the priest declares, “And you are resurrected that you may love and serve the Lord!” And immediately the congregation breaks into a joyous Easter hymn.
(I’m guessing Laura and Steve are glad I didn’t tell that story before we baptized Benedict!)
It is in this passage from death into life, dying to all that has been, that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters, as Jesus’ sisters and brothers.
Stir up in your church that spirit of adoption which is given to us in baptism. So what do we do with this Spirit of adoption? We live as people who could have drowned. We live as people who might have in fact been drowning. We wait eagerly for the kingdom of God and we live as if it is here. Because Jesus taught all of this. In the most earthy and practical ways we can (because Jesus was like that), we make choices about how we use what God has given us— money, time, relationships—as if our life depended on it.
We do this not just as individuals, but as The Church. That Spirit of adoption is stirred up in us as community and so as a community that would have drowned and is living into new life in Christ, the Spirit of adoption binds us together. When that Spirit is stirred up in us, we live and move together as if the expression of the Kingdom of God in this neighborhood and on this very block depended on it. It does.
I had a conversation with Sean a few weeks ago about how he was feeling about being baptized this morning. He said “I wish I was a little better prepared.” None of us is fully prepared for baptism—or all of us are equally prepared. Sean, you have a lifetime to live into your baptism, just as Benedict does, a lifetime to continue being formed into the Christian that God is calling you to be.
Baptism is our sacrament of belonging and our sacrament of vocation.
I’m going to borrow from the tradition of the ordination liturgy, and ask you to stand, Sean, because I have a charge for you in your new vocation as a Christian.
You—and Benedict, and all of us here who have looked death in the face and been adopted into Christ—are no less than God’s partner in the transformation of the world.
You—and all of us—will be sent out from this place to love and serve God as renewed people, stirred up for worship that extends far beyond these walls.
In his Palm Sunday sermon Father Rob said “Who Jesus is is what we are baptized to become.”
And so my charge to you—and all of you—is simply this:
Become Jesus. It takes a lifetime. Become Jesus by seeking Jesus in all people, by loving, prophesying, proclaiming, and praying. Become Jesus by asking hard questions, by being uncomfortable, by becoming part of a community that works to bring about God’s reign in how we live with each other and how we live with our neighbors.
That community is the same community that just promised to do all in our power to support you in your life in Christ. Never forget that we’re in this together.
(Now you may sit down.)
I learned from the huge Chinese birthday dinners of my high school friend that the feast is not even close to being over until the whole fish comes out.…in a few minutes we will bless bread and wine, break it, and share it in the name of our risen Lord. This is the whole fish. And then—and maybe this is the whole fish, too—we will go forth from this place in the name of Christ, to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Like baptism, this Eucharist we are about to share, and this sending, are what we are to become: blessed, broken, shared, and sent out into the world not just stirred up but infused with the Spirit, letting the world know with our words and our deeds that for us, life has begun anew.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
1 Bringing up the Children in the Christian Faith