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Sunday 21 June 2020

Newness of Life

Jeremiah 20:10-13; (Romans 6:1b-11); Matthew 10:24-39

By John-Francis Friendship

Priest and pastoral supervisor

Context: outer-London, working-class, Anglo-Catholic parish – parish Mass with baptism in an all-age congregation of 90 people

Aim: to explore the sacramental, particularly through baptism and worship


The other day I was listening to N talk about having to clear the house of a relative who’d just died and how difficult that was: items that had been precious and valuable to them were now just ‘things’ to be disposed of. I guess most of us have such items - ‘objects’ that have no value in themselves but are full of meaning for us. They’re ‘sacramentals’ if you like – things whose outward form is of far less value than their inner worth. We ‘see’ beneath them to what they communicate; they lead us into another world of meaning.

Baptised into new life

Today we heard St. Paul – that great writer and thinker who lived at the beginning of Christianity – talk about the purpose of Baptism as the way into a new life, a life which is available to all and which has the potential to change us. A life which is about getting it right with God by becoming a new person in Christ, part of a movement for the creation of a better world. A life which, as Jesus said in that reading from St Matthew’s gospel, requires us to ‘take up our cross and follow (him)’; which is why we sign the candidate for Baptism with the Cross, and why we frequently make the sign over ourselves – as a reminder that we follow Christ in his way.

Outwardly, of course, there’s little to show when we’re baptised: a little water sprinkled, some oil used for anointing and a small candle received. Nothing seems to change. But, from earliest times, Baptism has also been called the Sacrament of ‘Illumination’ – enlightenment – helping us to see with the eye of the heart. It provides an entrance into new way of life we need to step into if we’re going to begin discovering what it’s about. It’s no good being offered the keys to a great castle, for example, if all we’re going to do is sit on the doorstep, twiddling our thumbs. So that candle we’re given with the words, ‘Receive this light’ is to show that we’ve passed from darkness into light. But it’s not only a symbol of the way we’re to bring light to the world; we also need light on our journey of exploration into life in Christ.

In his book, The Inner Kingdom, Bishop Kallistos Ware tells the story of a dream he once had. ‘I was back at the school’, he wrote, ‘where I studied as a child. A friend took me first through rooms already familiar to me in my waking life. But then in my dream we entered other rooms that I had never seen before – spacious, elegant, filled with light. Finally, we entered a small, dark chapel, with mosaics gleaming in candlelight. “How strange,” I said to my companion, “that I have lived here for years, and yet I never knew about the existence of all these rooms” And he replied, “But it is always so.”’

Enlighted by worship

That dream reminded Bishop Kallistos that to be human – fully human – requires us to open ourselves to worship because worship draws us beyond ourselves into the realm of God, the mysterious Other. For as we allow ourselves to worship, so our lives are enlightened and changed. ‘Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father’, said St. Paul, ‘so we ... walk in newness of life.’

But worship isn’t just about what we do here each day of the week; the word means to recognise the worth of something. So, to walk the way of Christ also means to take seriously the worth of every human being and, in particular, those whom the world ignores. Jesus told his hearers that God sees every sparrow that falls to the ground – God sees and values creation and we must, too, as we try to create a better one.

Sacred heart

Worship, like life, is sacramental. It invites us to look with the eye of our heart. Last Friday we celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a reminder us that we’re to live out of the depths of his love and see life through the eye of his Heart. As we celebrate the Baptism of M today, we’re celebrating that new life into which s/he is being born. S/he – and those responsible for her/his nurturing – are being given the key to a castle – the Heart of Christ – that contains within it the meaning of life.

And what does the Lord require of all who stand at the door? Well an Old Testament prophet, called Micah, gave three simple instructions: ‘do justice, … love kindness, and ... walk humbly with your God.’ (6.8)

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