Plunged into Communion

In the Anglican Church of Canada there are four days each year that are recognized as being especially well-suited for baptisms: the Great Vigil of Easter; the Day of Pentecost, All Saints Day, and the Baptism of the Lord. Each of these holy days calls to mind particular aspects of what it means to be baptized in addition to their more commonly associated themes.


All Saints Day is observed on 1 November but, in our calendar, we are permitted to observe it a second time on the Sunday following if 1 November is not on a Sunday. (The only other day where this permitted is Epiphany, which can be observed on 6 January and the Sunday preceding that day.) This year today, 7 November, is All Saints Sunday and, at Holy Trinity Church, we are, God willing, baptizing a new Christian. This seemed a good opportunity to offer some reflection on the baptismal rite and its connections to the feast day.


NB: My notes here assume an adult being baptized. This is not a comment on the validity of infant baptism, but instead reflects the thinking I have been doing in preparation for our celebration at Holy Trinity on this occasion.


The portion of the liturgy specific to baptism—rather than those parts which are common to most eucharistic celebrations—begins with The Presentation and Examination of the Candidate. Everyone who is to be baptized is presented by one or more sponsors, also called godparents. These are people who promise to support the new Christian by having conversations with them, spending time with them, and showing them what it means to live in the world in this faith. The candidate confirms that they do, indeed, wish to be baptized. Christianity is never an "I" faith, it is always a "we" faith, even if it is a small gathering, there is someone presiding at the baptism, the godparent, and the one to be baptized. Where two or three are gathered... Christianity is also something that one must enter into willingly, not something into which one is born or forced. Free will and consent are important to God and to the spiritual health of the one being baptized.


Then follows what remains of a minor exorcism, now called The Examination. The baptisand makes three renunciations: of Satan, the evil powers of the world, and sinful desires. These are exorcised, or driven out and left behind, before the person turns to Jesus—often physically turning from the entrance to the building to face the altar or another symbol of Christ—and pledging to accept, trust, and obey Christ.

With these preparations complete, the congregation begin to pray a litany for the baptisand while those with parts in the baptismal ritual proceed to the font. A prayer of blessing and thanksgiving is prayed over the water in the font, expressing gratitude for water which gives us life, remembering the Exodus and crossing of the Red Sea, water in the desert, the Baptism of Christ, and the waters of life in the heavenly Jerusalem in the Revelation. The baptismal water is the same living water that fills these stories and connects all of those baptized to the love of God expressed in those events. On All Saints Day, the prayer over the water emphasizes the unity of the people of God in all times and places, drawing together those images of heavenly worship mentioned in the Te Deum with all the faithful living, speaking with one voice at this critical moment in the baptisand's life. This prayer is often sung rather than spoken, and when sung the melodies and modes used reflect those of the eucharistic prayers. This is a musical reminder that God's life-giving work is present in both the font of baptism and at the altar of eucharist and that our participation in both of these is key to our life in Christ. (The full text of the Thanksgiving over Water for All Saints Day is provided at the end of this post.)


With the water in place, a final series of questions are posed to the baptisand and the congregation of Christians present. These are promises made, to be upheld and lived out over the course of a lifetime. Whenever a new Christian is baptized, the rest of the Body of Christ present renews their own baptismal promises while pledging to help the new Christian live out theirs. These are answered together, the long-time Christians responding with the person about to be baptized, reinforcing that this faith is not meant to be lived alone, even from the first moments. The first three questions relate to belief in and about the Holy Trinity and are a dialogical form of the Apostles' Creed. The next six questions relate to activities that mark a Christian life as different from many others in the world:


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

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

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

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

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

Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God's creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?


In each case, the congregation respond together, "I will, with God's help." Not only do we live this faith with one another—including the entire communion of saints, Christians of all times and places throughout history—but we acknowledge that none of this is possible without God's help. These are the work of a lifetime and require the sort of transfiguration and conversion of life that only God's love, grace, and mercy can produce in us.


Following these final questions, the baptisand approaches the font and is immersed in water or, if the font is too small to immerse them, has water poured over them while the one baptizing says, addressing them by their Christian name, which may be newly chosen for this occasion or may be the name given to them at birth, "Name, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." This act concludes with the entire congregation saying "Amen." The baptisand goes under the water and surrenders their life, passing through the waters and emerging a Christian and sharing in the eternal life of Christ. They join the countless number of other Christians who have also passed through death into life in Christ and are joined forever, in an indissoluble bond, with God and the communion of all of God's saints.


Once the baptism is complete, the new Christian is signed with holy chrism in the shape of a cross on their forehead and is told "I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ's own for ever." Holy chrism is oil mixed and cooked with a number of different flowers and spiced, consecrated by the bishop annually for this very purpose. It represents the sealing of the person in their new life in Christ and carries with it "the sweet savour of salvation."


Baptized and chrismated, a new Christian born, the presider says a final prayer of thanksgiving to God and asks for blessings on the newly-baptized as they begin this life. The final act of the rite, which may take place immediately after this prayer or may happen at the end of the liturgy just prior to the dismissal, is the giving of light to the newly baptized person. A candle is lit from the paschal candle and handed to them. They are reminded that, in baptism, they have passed from death to life and now carry with them the light of Christ and it is their responsibility to let is shine that others may see it and now the good news of God's saving work.


Baptism on All Saints Day is a powerful moment. It reminds us that we are intimately connected, not only to God, but through God to every other Christian. We share this experience and this life with our neighbours standing next to us in church this morning, but also with Christians across the continent, around the world, and across time. We share this one life in Christ with neighbours, ancestors, and with those who will come after us. To choose Christ for our lives is no easy proposition, but we remember with great energy on All Saints Day that it is a task we take on with many to aid us. The prayers of the saints for our health, safety, and transfiguration ascend day and night. They watch from their places of rest, cheering us on like teammates in a relay race who have finished their part and come back to encourage their friends. Our ancestors in the faith know what it is to be human, to struggle, to fall, to stand again, and push on to the next leg of the journey. They know what joys and glories await us in an eternity with God and they can scarcely wait to welcome us there.


For the grace of baptism and for the joyful communion of All the Saints, thanks be to God.



Thanksgiving Over the Water on All Saints Day


Dialogue

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.


We give you thanks, source and sustainer of life, for the gift of water. This is the water your Spirit stirred at the dawn of creation, separating the soil from the sea, and calling forth a humanity fashioned to bear your image. Glory to you, for ever and ever.


This is the water through which you delivered twelve tribes enslaved to the powers of empire and oppression. You made a covenant with them in the wilderness beyond the Red Sea, and led them through the Jordan into a land of promise, uniting them as one people, chosen to display your liberating power for all held in captivity. Glory to you, for ever and ever.


This is the water sprinkled upon a people in exile, gifting them with a new heart and a new spirit, gathering them together from north and south, east and west, a fulfillment of your promise to restore those who weep in despair to the joy and dignity of hope. Glory to you, for ever and ever.


This is the water in which Jesus, Redeemer of the world, was baptized and named as your beloved child. This is the water that takes its course from the wounded side of Christ crucified, the living water that bursts tomb-sealing rock, giving rise to the new creation, and birthing from every tongue and nation a people consecrated to you. Glory to you, for ever and ever.


This is the water of life that springs forth in that city where you dwell with a multitude beyond number, united in the One whom they worship to the end of time and for ever. Glory to you, for ever and ever.


Gathered around this font, and surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we ask you to stir the waters once again by the movement of your Holy Spirit. From these waters, raise up a people hungry for justice and peace, one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, a sign of your promise for all creation, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at the promised and eternal banquet. We pray in communion with all the saints on earth and heaven, with the martyrs and the faithful of all ages, and in the name of the Lamb who was slain, but now reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, above all rule and authority, power and dominion, for ever and ever. Glory to you, for ever and ever. Amen.


Photo by Vishal Banik on Unsplash

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