Old Testament: Isaiah (65:17-25)
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
The Response: Psalm (118:1-2, 14-24)
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”
17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
The Epistle: Acts (10:34-43)
Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The Gospel: Luke (34:1-2)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
T.S. Eliot famously observed:
“We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form…”
That could have been a refrain used by Jesus’ disciples in the gospel according to Luke and in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. Over and over again, they, at first, missed the meaning of the experiences that they had. It seems that it was only with the passing of time that they were able to remember and, in remembering, to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words and deeds. And, in their understanding of the meaning, the experience itself was transformed.
In Luke chapter 22, after Peter had denied Jesus three times, there is the scene in which the cock crows, Jesus looks at Peter, and Peter remembers Jesus’ words from the Last Supper; and suddenly in remembering, he understands, he knows the meaning, and his experience is changed. In the gospel reading that we just heard, the women stand at the tomb on Easter morning, totally confused at what has happened and at what they were seeing; then the two men who had suddenly appeared to them call on them to remember: to remember what Jesus had told them; and, in remembering, they suddenly understood the meaning; and their experience was changed. Later, in the Acts of the Apostles after Peter had baptized the first non-Jews to join the Jesus movement, he defends himself to the other believers in Jerusalem by explaining (11:16): then “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” In remembering, he understood, and his experience was changed.
The feast of Easter, which we began celebrating last night and continue celebrating here this morning, is a new beginning. To the first believers, to those who remembered their Jewish heritage and who remembered all that Jesus had said and done, those memories led to a new understanding and a new experience of what God had been doing in him. They now realized that the resurrection of Jesus signaled the beginning of the resurrection of all people, the arrival of the dominion or reign of God. In remembering, their experience was changed.
Easter is an especially appropriate day for us to celebrate the sacrament of baptism; because baptism is an occasion for us to remember: to remember what God has done for us and for all the world in Jesus, and so to make a new beginning of life in the reign of God and to experience the reign of God in a new way. Baptism is a beginning. It is a beginning of life as an active member of the church. Baptism is about the church and about our relationship to and membership in the church.
Those of us who grew up many years ago lived at a time when it was common to have children baptized, even for those who were not active, participating members of any church. But, as such, it was a time in which we, too, “had the experience but missed the meaning.” Baptism was essentially treated as something that parents just automatically “did” for their children, like getting them their immunization shots. Those shots ensured that their little ones would be kept safe from polio, whooping cough, measles, and so on. Baptism was basically viewed by many as a sort of spiritual immunization. It supposedly ensured that they would, as the old saying went, “Go to heaven if they died.” Parents had their children baptized whether or not they had any intention of actually raising their children as active members of the church. That distorted idea of baptism was based on a distorted image of God: it was based on the image of a god who insisted on baptism as a prerequisite for a child to receive the fullness of God’s life and love, in this world and the next. To put it in old terminology, they couldn’t go the heaven without it.
But a god like that is not the infinitely loving God revealed to us in the Old and New Testaments. It is not the God whom we encounter in Jesus: a God who deeply and passionately loves all people and who desires to share the divine life with all people. There is no prerequisite for the love of the God whom we proclaim. In addition, an image of baptism as a way to try to ensure the love of a distorted pseudo-god distorts and misses the very purpose for baptism. All too often, people had the experience but missed the meaning.
Baptism is about life in the church. The Book of Common Prayer (page 298) teaches: “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” Baptism is about the church. Baptism does not somehow bring us God’s love. God’s love is already and always a free gift for all people. Instead, baptism is our response to God’s love. It is a solemn commitment on our part to remember and to commit our lives to living, as part of the church, a life of love and self-sacrifice in gratitude for and in imitation of that love. And, for a parent, baptism is a solemn commitment to bring up a child as part of the church: to enable that child to remember, to know and experience God’s love in his or her life in such a way that he or she will respond with a life of love and self-sacrifice for the sake of all God’s children.
In just a moment, as we prepare to baptize Sebastian and Nathaniel, we will be renewing the vows of our own baptism. And that renewal is an occasion for us to remember, to remember the very serious commitment that we make in baptism: a commitment to continue in the life of the church, to live a life of ongoing renewal, to proclaim the Good News in our words and in our actions, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
We make that renewed commitment because we remember: we remember all that God has done for us. We remember that God raised up Jesus to a new a greater life. We remember God’s charge to us to proclaim and to make that new life a reality for all those living in our community and in our world today. And in embracing the meaning, we can once again encounter that resurrection experience in a new and life-giving way.