During the 9am Forum all through Lent we have been studying the five promises within our Baptismal Covenant. Going through this series as both participant and facilitator has been an eye-opening experience. I have been reminded just how much of a journey - as opposed to a destination - our Baptism really is. Each one of the promises, if taken seriously, really does challenge us to take on a ‘new life.’ Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise as they articulate nothing less than what life looks like when you follow Jesus. Nevertheless, it was a reminder to me, how even something as radical as the path of Jesus, can become rote when if it is recited too often and not reflected upon enough.
Take the very first promise for example, “Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?” We might be tempted to read this as a pretty straightforward to-do list: Keep coming to church, pop into the forum for some teaching, stay for some fellowship at coffee hour and don’t leave without receiving communion. There you have it, on a single Sunday, you can fulfill the entire first promise! Ah but not so fast. When you look at the deeper implications of these promises, we really do have our work cut out for us!
Take for example just the “breaking of the bread” portion of that first promise. To begin with, the promise is not about any requirement to receive communion a certain number of times a year or even about receiving God’s forgiveness. In fact, it’s not about receiving at all. At its core, the Eucharist is about participation – that is our participation in God’s story of self-giving love which is embodied in the life of Jesus. Thus, the Eucharist - the central act of Christian worship - is our communal expression of that story. In a way, you might think of it as a drama which we come together each Sunday to act out God’s story of salvation. Have you noticed how you all have a speaking part in our liturgy? We are all given roles in this drama so that we will be shaped and transformed into a people that continue that same self-giving love after the performance is over and we re-enter our daily lives. And what do we learn from the ‘breaking of the break?’ For starters, we earn that we are loved so much, that God will stop at nothing to find us no matter how lost we can get or blind we might become. So, deep is God’s longing for us, that God would give his own son to live, suffer and die as one of us, so that we might be found. We take our place at God’s table, to experience the reality that God’s love knows no limits and thus our self-worth, no conditions. When we kneel at the altar rail, shoulder to shoulder, we are reminded that our worthiness to be loved has nothing to do with our status, our wealth, our education, our privilege or any other part of us. We are experience what it’s like to be equal and equally loved for who we are, not who we pretend to be or who we are told we should be.
Someone once said they caught a glimpse of Heaven one Sunday when gathered at the altar rail was a homeless person, next to a gay man, who was next to the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, each gathered at God’s table, and for a brief moment, the cultural barriers, internalized discrimination and social hierarchies that might have otherwise separated them, disappeared. I agree! By participating in the Eucharist, we find strength and confidence to do the radical work that we have been given to: Reconciling the world to one another and to God, without fear from domination systems and social conventions – not to mention our own self-doubts – that hold us back. It is a message so powerful, so countercultural, that we overflow with the need to give it away to anyone who has not yet experienced it.
As you prepare for Easter and the renewal of our Baptismal Promises, I invite you to re-read each of them prayerfully. (You can find them on page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer.) Meditate and reflect on them. Try to imagine the most radical implications your imagination can muster -- and then push them out even further. As you do that, I hope you will see that living into the Baptismal Promises could never be a destination. There was never going to be an arrival. Our call is to continually renew our commitment the journey. So, pack your bags and we’ll see you at the Great Vigil of Easter as together we prepare to embark once more!
~The Rev. Chris Harris
Before entering the ordination process, Chris served as Canon for Congregational Development at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, where his responsibilities included evangelism, newcomer welcome, small group organization, ministry development, communications and stewardship. Chris continues that ministry at St. Bartholomew’s where he joined the staff as Congregational Development Minister in September of 2015.