This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, on the Epiphany, which we celebrated last Sunday and marked by the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, Jesus was an infant or about 3 years old, depending upon which biblical scholars you follow.
My old liturgical joke, in the days when we used to sing “We three kings” on the first Sunday of the Epiphany season, whether or not it was the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, was, “Well, Jesus grows up very quickly between the processional hymn and the Gospel.”
Now, having observed the Epiphany, I suppose my joke is, “Well, Jesus grows up rather fast this week, in time to be baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan this Sunday, January 13.
Holy Baptism is a significant moment in life for Anglicans. Our parents or sponsors present us at the altar, our godparents are chosen and named, and promises are made either on behalf of an infant or by ourselves if we are candidates for baptism as youth or adults.
In fact, Holy Baptism is so important in our tradition that it has its own form of the liturgy (BCP p. 301). The Holy Eucharist is “tagged on” to the end of the baptism rite, in a manner of speaking. Moreover, when Holy Baptism and Confirmation are celebrated together, we still begin on p. 301 and “tag on” Confirmation (BCP p. 309).
Forgive me if I’m being too colloquial, but from the liturgist’s cubicle and chair, this is precisely the sequence of assembling these liturgies, according to the specific rubrics of the Prayer Book.
In a manner of speaking, it all begins with Holy Baptism.
We all know and love the story of Jesus presenting himself to his cousin, John the Baptist. John said something like, “Should I not present myself to you for baptism, and yet you ask me?” And then the dove descends, followed by the voice of God, “This is my Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
The central act of the Holy Baptism liturgy is the “six big questions,” which are asked directly to youth and adults or on behalf of infants and younger children:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Then, members of the entire congregation reaffirm their own baptisms with the “five big questions,” which are part of the Baptismal Covenant (BCP p. 304):
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
All of these “big questions” were answered for each of us, or by ourselves, at our own baptisms.
As we hear and say these questions and answers this Sunday at the 10:30 service, I plan to pay a little closer attention myself and reevaluate.
Not a bad spiritual exercise to observe early in the new year, I think.