Bearing the Name of Christ

Baptism IconA sermon for the Paschal Vigil, Easter Eve, April 15, 2017.  The lectionary texts for the Eucharist are Romans 6:3-11 and Matthew 28:1-10.

Listen to the sermon HERE.

For one of the years while I was in seminary I worked at a little church in South Philadelphia. The church had been formed from two congregations, one Presbyterian and one Episcopalian. Perhaps because of the church’s mixed identity, it was especially open to newcomers and to different kinds of people. In the early 1980’s the church worked very closely with Cambodian and Laotian refugees, many of whom joined the church. Every Sunday morning, in addition to the small congregation that was diverse to start with, there were also five to ten young adults with Down Syndrome and other challenges, who came in a van from a nearby group home. All of them worshipping together. All of them looking for God’s movement in their life and in the world.

One of the most interesting things about this odd little church in South Philadelphia was their baptismal rite—the prayers they used whenever they baptized.  They had carefully blended words from the Episcopal Prayer Book and from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, but they had added something else. So as to remind themselves of their unity in Christ, to remind themselves and the world, that nation of origin didn’t matter, skin color didn’t matter, mental ability, facility with language, physical condition—none of these things were important at the font of Baptism—to remind themselves of this enormous truth, each person received a new name at Baptism.

If I were baptized there, they would say to me, “John Christian, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Susan Christian, I baptize you. José Christian, and so on. In the baptismal liturgy each person was given the name of Christ to follow their own.

Through baptism, we die and rise again in Jesus Christ. We die to sin—to it’s power to overwhelm us, to depress us, to feel like we’ll never be a good person, to feel like we’re unworthy of God. We die to evil—to its temptations, to its subtleties, to its suggestiveness. We die to pride—to always having to have our way, to never listening to the other person, to believing that we are better than others.

And we are born anew. We are born into a Christian community where we are always welcome, always accepted, always able to come home. We are born into a way that builds up, that encourages, that that holds us in the community of faith even we feel like we might have just about fallen out.

Throughout the scriptures we’re told about people who are changed with they come into contact with God. Moses never thought he could lead people. Sarah never thought she could have a child. Paul never thought he would stop persecuting Christians, much less become a great Christian preacher and teacher, himself. And this is connected to Resurrection, as Paul reminds us in tonight’s Epistle,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

The movement of Holy Week allows us to reflect on the events that led up to the crucifixion of Jesus. At the Easter Vigil we reaffirm our baptismal vows. And today we continue to affirm that power of the cross to transform our lives, to lift us up from death and darkness, and to bring us into the light. We give thanks that Christ’s name is engraved on our hearts.

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