Sunday, January 13, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Luke’s Gospel tells us: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
One of the great gifts of the 1979 Prayer Book was a return to the centrality of baptism. The Catechism of The Book of Common Prayer makes clear that the first and most important ministry in the church is not the ministries of bishops, priests, or deacons, but the ministry of the baptized faithful. Canon 1 of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church explicitly states: “…all baptized persons are called to ministry in Christ’s name.” This may be an obvious theological point today, but in the history of the Church this is a radical reorienting of our understanding of baptism. No longer is baptism treated as a type of “fire insurance” or a sentimental baby dedication ceremony; it is instead a call to ministry, a dying to self, a full initiation in which one becomes a member of the Body of Christ and joins God’s mission in the world.
In an increasingly polarized world, baptism can teach us something important about the greatest commandment: Love of God and love of neighbor. Writing in 2004, as the Episcopal Church was enthralled in debates over human sexuality and facing possible schism, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold offered a reflection on baptism in a call to unity. He wrote: “And what have our baptisms done to us? … Questions of whether we like someone or not, whether we agree or not, are no longer relevant. Something far more fundamental has happened: God has knit us together in a body not of our own making, and Christ is the head and consciousness of this body… The mystery of our baptism is that in Christ we have all been made irrevocably one – beyond all imagining or desire. And, strange as it may seem at times, our lives are ordered in Christ such that we are instruments of one another’s salvation.”
On this Feast of the Baptism of our Lord we celebrate with Samuel Reed Kappers and Gray Cooper Morrison as they are baptized into a wonderful and sacred calling to follow Jesus in the way of Love. As we reflect on our own baptisms may we remember the promises we have made, and the promises made on our behalf. These promises, born in the depths of the baptismal waters, call us to put love above all else, uniting us in one Body, one Spirit, one hope in God’s call to us.
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Priest-in-Charge