Daily Archives: Sunday, 1 August, 2010

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 1 August 2010

Baptism: A matter of death and life

Colossians 3.1-11
Luke 12.13-21

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

LP Hartley started his 1953 book, The Go-Between, with this wonderful sentence. It’s just about become a proverbial saying, and it would be hard to find a better way to begin a book. Or a sermon, for that matter. So why not? Let’s do it:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

But first, let’s think about how we do something now. That something is baptism. Most times, we baptise babies or small children. It’s easy to get caught up in how cute they are. It’s possible to think of baptism as the way cute babies become part of the church family.

But when we read the bible, we see that baptism is spoken of very differently. It’s a matter of life and death. More accurately, it’s a matter of death and life. It’s about the person to be baptised dying with Christ and rising again with him. Sometimes, we forget that.

I think we’d be doing baptism better, and being reminded of what it means, if the font were shaped like a cross. And we laid the baby down in it. It would be challenging in the extreme, but it would show what baptism is really about.

Let’s now switch to the past. Don’t forget:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

I want you to imagine that you live in Rome in the fourth century AD. You wear Roman clothes; you eat anchovies and olives and rancid feta cheese, and quaff poor-quality red wine diluted with unsafe drinking water. It is a foreign country, and they really do things differently there. Including baptism.

You were brought up a pagan, but you’ve been converted to Jesus Christ. For three whole years you have been instructed in the Christian faith. In that time, you have never been to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. You haven’t been told what happens there; you have been dismissed after the ‘prayers of the people’ to continue being taught and formed in the Christian faith.

But now, Easter is approaching; and at the Easter Vigil, at last you’re going to become part of the Christian Church in baptism.

You haven’t been told what will happen then either. Back in your day, way back in the fourth century, the life of the Church was kept secret from all except those who had been fully initiated. They do things differently there, remember? Continue reading

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