Old Royal Naval College Chapel
Sunday 18th July 1999
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
The rite which we are using this morning for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism succeeds in highlighting certain facts about what the Church is doing when we baptize someone, be they infant or grown-up.
The service, as you will have observed, begins at the main door of the church which serves to remind us that baptism is the way in, indeed the only way, insofar as God has revealed his will to us, to anyone who wants to become incorporated into the Body of Christ.
But what took place at the door just a few minutes ago serves to remind us of something else, namely that God has appointed us to be Stewards and Doorkeepers and Ministers of his Mysteries.
That's not to suggest that as Stewards we should see ourselves as being in the business of keeping people out. On the contrary, it's our job to welcome everyone, high and low, rich and poor, young and old who is seeking to accept God's invitation to his heavenly banquet. You heard the words "The Christian Community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Saviour". You can't be much more positive than that.
However, just before these words of welcome are spoken, the Church says, as it were, to the parents "Wait a moment. Are you quite sure that this is what you want? Remember that the privilege of being reborn into Christ in baptism entails certain duties for parents and godparents in particular; and remember also that the sign of our profession is the sign of the cross in which we glory and by which we die to sin, the world and the devil. Are you really sure that you wish to go ahead with this?"
Having been assured of this, as we were this morning, we proceed to the second and central part of the rite. This takes place in the very midst of the congregation, which serves to remind us that every one of us is responsible for what is taking place. Together we renounce sin; together we profess our faith in God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. The act of baptism, with the anointing with the oil of chrism, the clothing in a white robe and the giving of a lighted candle in full view of everyone, remind us that baptism is a public act which doesn't begin and end at the font this morning.
For baptism is a lifelong commitment, making us Kings and Priests to God our Father, which the anointing denotes, and confers upon us a dignity symbolised by the white robe, and a trust bestowed upon us by the light of the Risen Christ in the form of the lighted candle, to be kept continuously shining as a light before men in the darkness of this world.
Then, right at the very end of the service, the three principal players, Child, Father and Mother approach the Altar together to receive God's benediction upon each of them and as a family. This reminds us that, as they have shared in the creative work of God by bringing a new life into the world, so for many years to come the faith and wellbeing of this child will depend upon his parents for its successful growth.
These three stages of Holy Baptism: Door, Font and Altar (to denote them by the place where they happen) follow one another as a necessary progression. It is upon the second of the stages that you and I will now embark in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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