Easter: The New Life is Now April 24, 2011Posted by Matt in family, Holy Week.
Tags: baptism, conversion story, Easter Sunday, family, Sacrament, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
At the conclusion of our Maundy Thursday service and all throughout our Good Friday one, the altar stood bare and naked, devoid of the usual ornamentation to bring about any sort of celebratory mood among the parishioners. And though we attended the Easter vigil at sundown (7:44pm) the night before, it was this morning that the gates were thrown open and the glorifying gaiety poured out across our little spot in Southaven, Mississippi.
Of course Easter is the day on which we celebrate that most important Christian symbol: the empty tomb of Jesus. This idea of resurrection and rebirth permeates the entire service, reverberating through now lavishly decorated nave and embedding itself in the very spirit of all those present. The celebration itself is consummated by the proclaiming of Alleluia, a word not uttered throughout the entirety of Lent, building the anticipation for this celebratory moment of moments.
For our family, this day had another all-important meaning infused into it, for this was the day when our three children would be baptized, thus cementing our place in the Episcopal Church and with the wonderful people of St. Timothy’s. It was a transformative day, a time that will no doubt stand as a turning point in all our lives as we move forward into the world, our newfound faith accompanying us. We were joined at today’s event by my mom and the Dennis family, one set of godparents for our children (the other set, Patrick and Jennifer, were of course already there). We sat on the front row on one side of the nave and the other young child being baptized and his family sat on the other.
We began the morning with the flowering of the cross when the children of the church covered a cross near the altar with flowers (Patrick gave us permission to take them from our neighbors if necessary. He said we could just tell them that the “Lord needed them.”) Once complete, the opening procession came down the aisle and Patrick stood before everyone with energy visibly coursing through him and let out the word that had gone unsaid for some 40 days plus Sundays, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
Following the readings (Jeremiah 31:1-6, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43, and the Gospel reading: Matthew 28:1-10), Patrick gave his sermon for the week. His lesson for today’s service was a two headed creature, though he tied them both together well and in a way that I found to be quite profound. As you might expect, he spoke of the significance of the empty tomb and tied it to a discussion of baptism, specifically that of infants. “Baptism, is not for them,” he said as he motioned toward our children on the front row, “it is for us,” and he waved his hands toward the larger-than-normal crowd of parishioners. “They and you are already forgiven. That’s been taken care of. Jesus brought salvation to the entire world. Everybody. So, baptism is not about the individual, it’s about the community.” Baptism is then an affirmation, by the community, of what Jesus has already done for the world.
You know why I love this church? Because I’ve been saying some of these same things for years and it’s nice to actually get some sense of validation.
When the time came for the Sacrament to take place, those of us taking part in the service stood up across the front rows of the building and pronounced that we were presenting them to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. In case you’ve never witnessed an Episcopal Baptismal ceremony, it truly is a beautiful and meaningful thing and one in which the person being baptized, their parents and godparents, and the entire church takes part. It begins with the priest asking a series of questions of those being baptized and of those (parents and godparents) representing them. For example:
Priest: Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
Parents and Godparents: I will, with God’s help.
Priest: Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
Parents and Godparents: I will, with God’s help.
The questions then go through a litany of renouncing evil and promising to follow Jesus as Lord.
Next the entire congregation renews their own Baptismal Covenant, which is very similar in content to the Nicene Creed, in a question and answer format, and then say a prayer of thanksgiving over the water.
After all of that, it was time for the baptisms. Patrick took one child at a time, holding the youngest ones and letting our oldest two step up to the baptismal font on their own. He then cupped the water in his hand and poured it over the child’s head three times, saying, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
Following that, he then marked their foreheads with the sign of the cross, saying, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Amen.”
Lastly he presented them to the congregation, saying, “Let us welcome the newly baptized.” The congregation then answers, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”
It was really an awesome thing to witness.
The only thing that might have made it more memorable would have been if more family had been able to make it, but my dad injured himself last week, my brother and sister-in-law were out of town, and others declined. We were so glad to have mom there, though, and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. Even though our practices in the Episcopal Church are somewhat foreign to her, she still wholeheartedly supports us and that means a lot.
So, I guess this means it’s official now. We are Episcopalians. I don’t think we could have made a better decision.