19 June 2007

Soldier of Christ

I’m holding little Eric Christopher whom I baptized this past Sunday. As you can see from the picture, he wasn’t too thrilled at what happened. But one day he will be. He’ll look back on that day and he’ll realize that’s the day when his life was changed in an eternal way.

I really look forward to baptisms. It’s always a privilege to take into my arms what I jokingly refer to as “a little pagan baby” and hand him back to his godparents as the newest Christian in the Church. Before anyone scolds me, I know an unbaptized baby isn’t a pagan. But he is unregenerate, and his parents and godparents have brought him to the Church so he can be cleansed of the stain of original sin and be marked as Christ’s own.

That’s why I love the exhortation which is said at the beginning of the ceremony. It makes very clear what we’re about to do:

Dearly beloved, forasmuch as our Savior Christ saith, None can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of Water and of the Holy Ghost; I beseech you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bounteous mercy he will grant to this Child that which by nature he cannot have; that he may be baptized with Water and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ’s holy Church and be made a living member of the same.

As is the case with so much of the liturgy of the Anglican Use, there are few wasted words. Certainly the phrases are beautiful, but when it’s examined closely it’s evident that we’re getting right down to business. There’s a summary of what Christ said about being born again. We’re asked to pray for God’s mercy upon the one to be baptised, because this isn’t something he can do for himself. And then we’re reminded of what is happening in this sacrament.

It’s an elegant and straightforward exhortation. It makes it very clear that this is God’s work which is about to be done. And after the baptism is completed, the nature of our responsibility in the covenant is clarified:

We receive this Child into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end. Amen.

This is no mere social event or formality. It’s serious business when someone is baptised. Even the tiniest child wrapped in an heirloom baptismal gown, after being cleansed from the inheritance of our first father Adam, is then enlisted in the army of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. We’re reminded of the work God gives us to do: to confess the Faith unashamedly, to fight manfully against whatever would try to drag us away from God, and to continue – for the rest of our lives – in faithful service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It’s a tall order. In fact, it’s pretty hard work. No wonder Eric screamed a little when he was baptised. But he can do it – and so can we, just like the saints who have done it before us – because of what God has done.