All Saints by the Lake, Dorval
Easter V, Year C
May 19, 2019
Today we baptize little J. J and his family have had a harder road than many to get to this point; he was all ready to be baptized back in January, on Epiphany, when he, his big sister, and various other family members were all laid low with both croup and hand, foot and mouth disease. So we rejoice especially that they and their friends and family have made it here today!
Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter, a season which lasts until Pentecost on June 9, and the whole season is a particularly appropriate time for baptisms. In the season of Easter we hear a series of thrilling and strange stories from the Acts of the Apostles, describing the explosive growth of the infant Church after the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples, inspiring them to spread the good news of Jesus fearlessly to the ends of the known world.
Over and over, this involves the apostles being pushed beyond their comfort zones, as they realize that the news of Jesus’ resurrection is not only for them, the faithful Jewish people who have been awaiting the Messiah for centuries, but for literally everyone, including Ethiopian eunuchs like the one Philip encounters on the road, former persecutors of the church like Saul who becomes Paul, and today’s character, the centurion Cornelius.
Peter is shown a vision in which God apparently commands him to “kill and eat” animals for food that he has avoided all his life because they are forbidden by the Law of Moses. When Peter understandably hesitates, God tells him that he must not call profane that which God has made clean. Having heard this three times, Peter obeys, and goes to preach the Gospel to the household of the centurion. In doing so, he is showing the boundary-breaking love of God, that is always calling us to seek out and welcome those who have formerly been excluded.
Fascinatingly, the baptism of Cornelius and his household takes place immediately. Having heard Peter’s telling of the news of Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit falls upon them – which probably means they prayed aloud in tongues – and they are baptized without delay. There is no period of preparation and instruction. In the very earliest days of the church, the instruction came after the initiation, as the new converts learned to live together in a new kind of community.
Today, because we want people who are baptized, or bring their children for baptism, to understand that it is a lifelong commitment to a different way of life, we do conduct baptismal preparation sessions, and indeed J and his family were here yesterday for that conversation. But I know clergy who, when they’re having a baptism, will explicitly invite anyone else present who wants to get baptized to come forward. (Anyone else here want to get baptized?)
God’s welcome is unconditional, even if you have only the vaguest sense of the power and beauty of the message that is about to turn your life upside down. It is up to you thereafter to live out the promises you have made in the beginning of this new relationship: to continue to engage with that message, to hear the story and let it change you, to listen for God’s voice and what new and different things it might be calling you to. And it is up to this community to be worthy of that commitment.
The rest of our readings this morning actually provide a remarkably concise summary of what the Christian life, post-baptism, looks like. In the reading from John’s Gospel, we hear once again the new commandment to love one another, given by Jesus at the Last Supper after he has washed the disciples’ feet and when Judas has already gone out to betray him. About to be arrested and executed, he still implores his followers not to respond to violence with violence, but to set an example of love to the world. This is love that is not about warm feelings, but about how we treat each other: caring for each other, honouring each other, serving each other.
The Psalm, in turn, reminds us that one of the most fundamental things about faith is praise: that all of creation praises God and that we are called to do so in thanks for all our blessings.
And finally, the reading from Revelation underscores the ultimate promise of the good news of Jesus: that death is not, cannot ever be, the end of the story; that God’s dream is of a new creation, a holy city of justice and love, where mourning and crying and pain are no more. That God is with us always, giving us water from the spring of life.
These are the promises into which we baptize baby J today. Growing up in this community, he will hear the story and learn to let it change him. He will be welcomed and loved as a cherished child of God, and learn to love and serve others. And he will be part of the communion of saints, the fellowship that rejoices and feasts around the table that God spreads, to which all are welcome, and which will never come to an end.