Last Sunday, the feast of The Baptism of our Lord, is one of the primary days for baptism to occur in the life of the church. In addition to that feast day, the Book of Common Prayer tells us, “Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.” (BCP, 321) The prayer book goes on to say that baptism should be reserved for these occasions or for when a bishop is present. While it is allowed to have baptism outside of those feast days, it is most appropriate that we celebrate baptism on the aforementioned feasts of the church year. Only one of them is not always a Sunday: All Saints’ Day. Thus, the majority of the times appointed for the celebration of Holy Baptism coincide with Sunday celebrations; Holy Baptism is reserved for those days when the Body of Christ gathers in prayer. The celebration is meant to be a public celebration, and it is a celebration in which we make commitments. We make and renew the baptismal covenant with God; we make a covenant with the persons being baptized to support them in their lives in Christ; we covenant with God to do our very best to follow the customs and traditions of God’s household. We stand before God to make bold professions of faith, and we do this every time we celebrate Holy Baptism as a community.
The renewal of our baptismal vows begins with us renewing our stated belief through the words of the Apostle’s Creed. As the oldest creed in our prayer book, it is most associated with Holy Baptism and, in the Anglican tradition, with morning prayer. The use of the Apostle’s Creed here is to state, through creedal belief, what a person is being baptized into. The Apostle’s Creed helps us to say what it means for us to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is our “primary statement of faith in the Triune God into which Christians are baptized.” As the primary statement of faith of the church, we include it as part of the Daily Office in morning and evening prayer. At the two primary times of prayer of the day, we restate the primary belief that we have in and through the Triune God. It is a reminder for us, in our daily prayers, of the covenant that we hold with God through Holy Baptism, and it is a reminder that we have committed to God to support each other in our life in faith.
As The Baptismal Covenant continues to unfold, we go beyond the creedal belief statement of the church and into questions that are asking us to do certain things. Each question is inviting us into living out the faith that we have just professed through the three paragraphs of the Apostle’s Creed, and each one of these questions will need us to rely on God’s help to even come close to achieving them. We really do not have a choice but to end our response to each question with the clause “with God’s help.” Thus, let’s take a moment to look at these questions and consider what we are promising through Holy Baptism.
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?”The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304
The first promise that we make in the Baptismal Covenant is based off of Acts 2:43. We are saying that we are going to continue living out our faith in community. We are saying that we will worship together, come to classes to learn more about our faith, and will pray daily, as individuals and as a community. For us to live up to this promise that we make in baptism, we have to give priority to our community of faith. It means that we are going to strive to participate in the community’s common life whenever possible.
“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304
The second promise that we make is one that recognizes that we are not made perfect the moment that we are baptized. We will continue to struggle to live out our faith, and we will have times in our lives in which we fall short. The promise is a recognition that we will need to repent throughout our faith journey. It is also a recognition that there is forgiveness in and through repentance. In the moment that we turn back towards God’s grace, we will find that forgiveness is available to us. Each time that we repent, that we turn back towards God’s love, we are praying, through our actions, “O, God of new beginnings and second chances…”
“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305
Here, in the midst of Holy Baptism, we promise to share the very thing that is actively transforming our lives: the Good News of God in Christ. We promise to share our faith, and we promise to share it in two very specific ways. The thrust of this promise is the proclamation. We promise to proclaim, and we say that we are going to proclaim through two primary ways: by word and example. We do not state that we will share our faith through one or the other. We promise to share our faith through both. We promise to be agents of love in the ways that we share faith through both means – word and example. We cannot choose one or the other; we must stretch ourselves to include both in the ways that we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305
Here, in this promise, we audaciously commit to serving Christ in every single person we encounter. We are promising to see the face of Christ in the whole of humanity, and we are promising to serve others as if they were Christ. We keep going in this promise to say that we will love our neighbors as ourselves. While it is tempting for us to think about our neighbor as a separate entity from the self, I do not think that is what this promise is asking us to do. Instead, we are being asked to love the neighbor as if the neighbor is part of my being. In fact, we are making this promise because our neighbor has a very important role to play in who I am as a person. In South Africa, it is called ubuntu: I am because you are. We each have an impact on each others’ lives. We promise that love will be the guiding measure of how we engage all people – whether we want to do so or not.
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305
The final promise that we make is, like the one before it, one that is easy to say but rather challenging to live out in our daily lives. Here, we promise to strive for justice and peace among all people; we promise to respect the dignity of every human being – regardless of who that person is. We promise to extend love as a way of seeking justice and peace among all people. We cannot strive for justice and peace among all people if we also do not respect the dignity of every human being. We are promising to see every single human being as a beloved child of God.
The promises that we make in baptism are not easy promises. We will, repeatedly, need to repent for the times that we forget to live according to these promises. Each promise asks us to rely on God’s help as we seek to live out our baptisms in the everyday grime of daily life. We are put in a position of being transformational agents precisely because we begin striving to live according to these promises. We will need to be gentle with ourselves and with others as we seek to learn how to best live out these promises, and we will need to rely on each other for support when living according to these promises gets particularly challenging for us.
The community that was gathered when we were baptized, which is nothing less than the Body of Christ, becomes our community of faith that supports in our lives. We continue to participate in the communal aspect of the church not because the church is perfect. Indeed, it is the imperfect nature of the church that helps us remember that grace calls us towards love. And if we are striving to live our lives according to the rule of love, we will also strive to practice forgiveness with ourselves and with each other.