Assistant Curate, Mariama Ifode-Blease, explores how Baptism speaks more to invitation than obligation.
For some of us, baptism (or a christening) happened to us as children. We had little choice in the matter and, if Christianity was the faith of our primary carers, then we were drenched three times, cried and were part of a celebration which hopefully involved cake. For those of us baptised as adults, the decision to be baptised may not have come easy, and the road to it may have been defined by challenging experiences as well as joyful ones.
Baptism brings together potential and promise in an occasion rich in symbolism: the potential inherent in all of us when fused with God’s grace, and the promise that our divine creator knows us by name and that we are so loved. There is oil for anointing, water for the baptism itself, and the light of the baptismal candle to show the world that something quite momentous has happened both inside us and beyond. I should clarify that baptism is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is the opportunity to reset and recognise that things can be made new, that things do not need to be as they were. Baptism tells us that there is a story in which we are written, and that this story is love, and that this love is a constant invitation. It’s a bit like waking up every day warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Baptism gives us just the right temperature in which to root ourselves, and in which we can choose to explore our flourishing and the potential of our positioning as loved beings, made in love and for love.
Now, the reality of life reveals that this cosy image of life infused with love does not match the behaviour we receive and the behaviour we give. We may be held in love, but we also know that people with whom we share the planet can sometimes be cruel, intentionally thoughtless or just downright annoying. We, too, can go through life not being our best selves because life has caused more than a few dents in our armoury of love and shattered our belief in what is possible. Baptism brings us back to the centre; it reminds us that we were made for more despite the disappointments, betrayals, lost hope and dreams placed on hold. As we were reminded so helpfully in Sunday’s sermon: we have been called into something greater.
I often say to families who are bringing their little one to be baptised, or to individuals who choose to be baptised at a later date, that you do not need to be baptised to lead a fulfilling life. That’s not what this is. It is not an obligation that locks you into doom and despair if you are not baptised. Rather it is an invitation to step into a bigger story, purposefully written so that we can have a place in it, contribute to it, and make it our own. Theologically, we say that baptism is a sacrament, and this is often defined as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’. It makes known something of us to the world, and reminds us of what is within us, if we give this light and love room to grow.
It’s probably good to also remind ourselves that we are baptised into the worldwide church, not into St James’s, though of course this is really important and special. We are a community who eat, sing, dance, worship and serve together and being baptised as part of this living community is such a tremendous gift to us. Here at St James’s we run an annual programme of baptism and confirmation preparation in Lent. Confirmation is the next step after baptism and it shouts out about God’s love, and our own love-identity, even louder, in a service that affirms a growing or established faith and marks another stage of the journey with God.
So, in February we bring all those who want to be baptised or confirmed to learn and share together what this all means. There will be five sessions leading to a service that combines both baptism and confirmation on Easter Eve, Saturday 8th April, at St Paul’s Cathedral. There is an afternoon rehearsal, and the service itself is at 6pm, with the baptisms and confirmations led by the Bishop of London. If you’re interested in finding out more, and seeing if this is where you are and something you would like to be a part of, do email me, speak to any of the clergy or David our Parish Administrator. It’s a new year, and this could be an exciting new adventure. Let’s start it together.