September 2015

A fundamental gesture of faith, hope and love

Baptism acknowledges our primal dignity as God’s good creation, and gives us our identity – heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, writes Margaret-Mary Flynn.

BY Margaret-Mary Flynn

It’s always nice to be invited to a christening, and the one I went to recently was no exception. The young parents glowed with pride, the excited little ones scooted around, and the assorted relatives, godparents and friends all gathered around the font in happy expectation.

The Sacrament of Baptism is celebrated with smiles. I remember a lovely auntie leaning over the pew to kiss my baby daughter, saying: “Here’s a kiss for the little one – it’s the closest I’ll get to a living saint!”

Of course, as time goes on, even the most adoring mother may wonder about her little saint!

Baptism is such a fundamental gesture of faith, hope and love. It acknowledges our primal dignity as God’s good creation, and gives us our identity – heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. William Wordsworth, in his poem about immortality, remarks:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:

The baby cried indignantly when cold water was poured onto his head, and there was a gentle ripple of laughter amongst the guests. Cameras flashed, and the child was called for the first time Child of God “for so he is”.

The final blessings were given, and we gathered around the new little family, to congratulate and praise.

Then it was off to lunch, to “wet the baby’s head” with champagne or cups of tea for the aunties and oldies, and pavlova and cake for dessert.

But however lightly we take it, what had happened is no small thing. That day, the foundations of a life of faith were set for a new person.

The book of life for this little one is yet to be written, and the pages wait to be turned. It will be a long time before he will turn them for himself.

But the book of life for those of us who were there to welcome him into God’s family has been in the making for a lot of years, and some of our pages are dog-eared and grimy, and many marked with old stains and tears.

We have known hardship, and disappointment. We have known compromise and shame. We have not always been able to reject “the lure of evil”.

So it is a great comfort to us to witness that small and perfect prayer called the Ephphetha, which completes the Sacrament. The Celebrant touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb, saying:

“The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith. To the praise and glory of God the Father”.

And so we are all blessed. With our Amen we acknowledge all those times in our life where Jesus heals and restores us; when the choice to hear and act out of his word has made us just, loving and true. We recognise the faithfulness of Jesus, whose peaceful friendship is offered lifelong, and who lives in our stories, just as we, sometimes faithful and sometimes not, live in his.

This article was first published in the August 2013 edition of The Sandpiper, the newspaper of the Sandhurst Diocese.

Margaret-Mary Flynn

Margaret-Mary Flynn is a writer and editor with a background in education, teaching English, literature, history and religious education. She has recently graduated with a Master of Arts (Spirituality) from the University of Divinity, specialising in spiritual direction, and early Christian and monastic spirituality. She lives in Bendigo with her husband, has three adult children and three grandchildren, and enjoys reading and writing, the domestic arts, yoga and gardening.

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