Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Standing at the font; breaking bread, loving our neighbors as ourselves: the centrality of our baptismal covenant

Last week, I reported to you about a baptism of four-year-old Isaiah, who stood at the baptismal font, put his hands in the water, and helped me bless the water of his own baptism.

Isaiah was fascinated throughout, and it was one of those wonderful experiences that I will remember forever. And I would guess Isaiah will remember his baptism forever. Isaiah's grandmother, Virginia Germino, shared a few photos, and I share them with you. The second photo shows retired Associate Rector Paula Kettlewell as she baptized Isaiah.

That experience underlined for me again the centrality of baptism in the life of The Episcopal Church. That was not always true; it is really an outgrowth of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

The baptismal covenant from the 1979 prayer book is now firmly foundational to our life of faith. The covenant is really proclamation of the ministry that we share together as the people of God. That is probably the single most important change brought about by the adoption of the prayer book 31 years ago, much more important that some of the other changes including moving the altar out from the wall.

Our baptism, and the vows we take together each time we baptize a new Christian, represent a declaration that we are all in this together; that we are ministers, and not consumers of religion; that we will take our faith beyond our walls into the world; and that our faith is not just something we do for an hour on Sunday. We may not always get it right (but sometimes we do!); we will keep returning to that covenant, pledging together to share our ministry as God lights our path and shows us the way.

The baptismal covenant begins with our reciting the Apostle's Creed, which is an ancient statement of the Trinitarian faith. Note that is inclusive in tone; there are no statements that you must believe something or you are out; it is simply a statement of how Christians since ancient times believe God came into the world to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ, and how by his death he crumbled the boundaries of death.

Then the covenant shifts into vows about how we will live out our life of faith by continuing to break bread and pray together; by loving our neighbors as ourselves; by "respecting the dignity of every human being." The vows are practical, not doctrinal; they are practices that everyone from the youngest to the oldest are capable of doing as God gives each of us the maturity and ability to do so.

Here again is the baptismal covenant (Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305):

The Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?
People I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human

People I will, with God’s help.

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