In both the stories we have read from the Bible this morning, there is a real sense of excitement. And today, for us, that is good. Because there is a real sense of excitement in our service. What we’re doing today is very special. A baptism is always special, but I think this one is especially so, because, as a congregation, we have a long connection with this family and have been with them in dark times and in times of joy, of which this is one.
From Luke’s Gospel, we read about two disciples, one called Cleopas, the other very possibly his wife, Mary. They were on their way home, saddened and confused by the death of their friend Jesus. They’d heard, from some of their friends, some story about Jesus possibly being alive, but they didn’t really know what to make of it.
But greatly to their surprise, over dinner at their home, they realised that the stranger with whom they had been walking and taking, whom they had invited in for supper, was Jesus. In great excitement, they hurried back to Jerusalem, saying, “It’s true, Jesus is risen!”
One of the people to whom they told this was Peter, one of the most senior of the disciples, though probably he was still quite a young man. Within a few weeks, he had taken on the leadership of this little group which believed what Cleopas and his wife and others had witnessed and were saying – that Jesus was risen.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter became the chief spokesperson and found himself speaking to many people about Jesus. It is a big transformation for Peter. So often in the gospels, he’s confused by what Jesus was saying. So often he declares himself bold and courageous, only to beat a hasty retreat when things got tough.
Not now. He has good news and he is going to share it. And he has a big audience. He has them in the palm of his hand. He’s speaking so compellingly and with such conviction and authenticity. And the people he’s addressing see that he is someone just like them. He’s an Israelite, speaking to an audience of Israelites.
I’m emphasising that because, where we have joined in listening to his speech or sermon this morning, we’ve got to the point where he makes a startling accusation. He tells his listeners that they are the ones who crucified this Jesus about whom he is speaking. But because he is one of them, the accusation is as much against himself as it is against anyone else. And rightly so. He’s remembering how he failed to stand by Jesus when he was on trial, how he denied even knowing him. He’s profoundly ashamed of what he did, not many weeks ago.
The people listening are deeply affected by what they hear. Rather than being offended by the accusation, they accept its truth and ask, “What should we do?” To them, this is all entirely new. But Peter has had time to think – not much time, but enough. He has an answer.
Repent, and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
With these words, Peter describes what the church, in services like this, has done ever since. Jesus commanded it – now Peter is enacting it. This is the beginning of baptism as we know it.
People responded in huge numbers that day, and people are still responding to these words, seeking baptism for themselves and for their children. These words contain the seeds of all we have come to understand baptism as meaning.
Baptism is a call to a new life of following Jesus. Passing through the waters of baptism portrays death to the old ways and birth into new life in Christ.
Baptism marks all who are baptised as belonging to Christ, and belonging to the church, the body of Christ.
Baptism sets us on the way to lifelong participation in Christ’s mission of reconciliation and justice, transforming our lives and, though our transformed lives, transforming the lives of others.
Alongside being a call, which can be heard at any point in life, including in the early months of childhood, baptism is also a promise.
Baptism is the sign of the promise of forgiveness.
Baptism is the sign of the promise that God will always love us. Baptism is not a precondition for the fulfilment of these promises, but a sign, a recognition that they have already been made to us by God and that nothing we have done or nothing we will do will ever change that.
Finally, baptism is the sign of God’s promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit, that spark of the divine, that little bit of God which is in each one of us.
It is all these things that we celebrate today. It is all these things which give cause for excitement. We celebrate the promises of God in the life of Miles Cawkwell, remembering with gladness that the same promises have been made to us all. And we look forward, with joy and hope, to the life that is before Miles, knowing that because God is in him and with him, he will be able to fulfil the call of God to live his life for him.