Lucy Winkett emphasizes the significance of baptism and confirmation as personal yet communal pledges that provide direction and purpose in an ever-changing world.
Well of course the short answer is that you don’t have to! The invitation to prepare for being baptised or confirmed, if you haven’t already, is just that: an invitation to consider taking this step in your own life of faith. Baptism is an ancient and beautiful ritual that can only happen once. So if you were baptised (also known as christened) as a baby, then you can’t be baptised again. What often happens later on in life is that people are confirmed. That is, the same promises are made by you as an adult that were made for you as a child. Confirmation can happen at any age and is always a ritual performed by a bishop. The bishop lays her or his hands on you and prays that the Holy Spirit might inspire you in your life. It’s a prayer that your own spirit will be enlivened, quickened, awakened, to the presence of God in the world today.
If you’re baptised as an adult, then you are also confirmed in the same service. The confirmation promises are the same as the baptism questions. There are three questions: Do you turn to Christ? I turn to Christ. Do you repent of your sins? I repent of my sins. Do you renounce evil? I renounce evil.
Although the language might sound a little archaic to modern ears, these are truly beautiful and positive promises that are all about what direction you are facing in your life. Whatever our age or stage in life, we are making our way. Maybe things are going well, maybe things are going as you thought they might. Maybe life events have taken you in a surprising direction, one that you could never have anticipated when you were younger. Maybe you’re just not where you want to be, maybe you thought you’d have it all figured out by now, maybe you’re disappointed, or disillusioned, angry or just plain confused. The promises made at our baptism and confirmed at our confirmation give us direction in a constantly changing and uncertain world, and help us to pledge ourselves always, every day, every hour of every day, to turn towards the light of Christ in the world, wherever we find it, however we can see it, and keep turning and turning back throughout our lives.
And while it’s a deeply personal pledge, that gives your life purpose and momentum, that you will ‘turn to Christ’ even when it’s sometimes very hard to see where Christ is, it’s a promise that can’t be kept all alone. When a person is baptised, the elemental symbols of oil, water and light bind us by that baptism to a teeming creation made sacred by the God who created it. Within that creation, interdependent with all that has been made, human beings pledge themselves to Christ who is the beginning and end of all that lives and has lived. This is expressed in the carved Alpha and Omega on the paschal candle stand at St James’s, and a similar Alpha and Omega is placed on the candle itself, lit for the first time each Easter and from which every baptismal candle is lit.
Baptism and Confirmation pledges are both cosmic and practical. A reminder that our calling as human beings is to plunge ourselves (like the baptismal waters) into life, ready to be joyful at the astonishing gifts of human life; ready to grieve profoundly at our own complicity with greed and injustice and keep making change; ready to dig deep to find the courage to stand up for what is right. I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins. I renounce evil. It’s an adventure and full of twists and turns as yet unknown. But an adventure we try to make together with others along the way.
So do consider it, if these are promises you haven’t yet made. Mariama will gather a group together for some preparation this year as last year, and take everyone to St Paul’s Cathedral on Easter Eve (Saturday 30 March) for the service led by Sarah, Bishop of London. And if you have any questions or want help thinking about it for yourself, do be in touch with any of us whether it’s for this year or for next or for any time in the future.