Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Baptismal Reflections

To begin with, I'd like to say what a special day this was. I wasn't sure what was actually going to happen (having only found the order of service 2 minutes before) and it felt strange having so many of my friends come and watch when church is not somewhere they would usually choose to go! However, despite my imaginings of what it would be like, the whole experience was quite literally beyond my greatest expectations and I could not have imagined that I would ever experience such a fanstastic day, particularly during this period of my life.

Pictures are here:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9992439849
My testimony is here:
http://www.real-life.org.uk/peoplesstories.htm

So, down to my reflections... Sorry they are so disjointed but there are just to many different little thoughts to try and sort them!

Love
Particularly at the lunch afterwards, many people mentioned how much the morning was a lot like a wedding and Claire joked that it was, indeed, my wedding to Jesus. And this metaphor I find particularly powerful. (Jesus decribes himself as the bridegroom and the church as his bride). To begin with, a wedding is based around the couple's love for one another and the baptism for me was my response of love to the love I have received from Jesus over and over. My tattoo (my baptism present) says "Deuteronomy 6:5" the verse for which is
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength."
Lizzie asked me if God had told me to get this particular verse permanently tattooed on my body or whether I just picked it cos it was nice. Actually, neither, or rather more both. I like it because it shouts "I LOVE JESUS". Something which I would, should tattoos be permitted to 5 year olds, have tattooed on me. It is my way of saying "I LOVE JESUS" and I felt was a reflection of my baptism which also shouted "I LOVE JESUS" yet this should also be followed by "AND HE LOVES ME!" (maybe I should get John 3:16 jotted on my other hip?)

Belonging

The second way my baptism echoed a wedding was the joining into God's family. When my brother married Jennie, me and my sisters found it so exciting to have a new big sister to borrow jewellery off and to be part of our 'Sweeney sisters' brigade. And when Jennie joined our family she acquired us as her extended family, having taken on my brother's name and having become joined to him. In the same way, I have become a part of God's family and particularly St Peter's church. This was particularly special for me as I have often struggled with feeling as if I don't belong and when Mark said "Christ claims you as his own" I knew I really did belong somewhere and not just anywhere but in God's family. In Deeper at the moment we are looking at 1 Corinthians 12 and the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12: 14 - 19

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Now I belong to the body of Christ and I know I belong because I have a part in this body.

A great song by Alan Price sums this up pretty succintly:

Now I belong to Jesus and his spirit lives in me
I'm a soldier and a servant of the King of Kings
I'll fight against the wrong I find
I'll serve him with my heart and mind
A soldier and a servant I will be

Make me faithful Lord Jesus
Make me faithful Lord to you
Keep me faithful Lord Jesus
Keep me faithful Lord to you

Worth

I think my baptism was a wake up call about my worth. When comparing myself to celebrities or even just other people, it is easy to find myself worthless and falling off the end of the scale (at the bottom end) as the scale usually begins with a beautiful millionaire and ends with an even more beautiful millionaire. Thank goodness God doesn't have the same scales as society and even myself individually sets. I'm just thinking again about weddings and how back in the day, the wife used to be bought off her dad by the groom in exchange for a juicy bit of land. Even nowadays, women are sold for cows, and women have the humiliation of being judged to the extent that an exact number can be attributed to her worth through the eyes of the groom. However, when we think about the price Jesus paid for us (his life, giving his blood, read the book of Hebrews for more), suddenly it seems so pointless to base worth on these earthly things. Surely if Jesus was willing to die for us then we must be worth enough. I knew all this before I was baptised. But I didn't really think it applied to me. But the whole experience made me feel more special than I think I have ever felt, particularly thanks to all the effort peole had put into it. And now I feel like I include myself in the "world" for which God says he gave his only son (John 3:16) whereas before I was so inclined to remove myself from this group. But now I have been accepted into God's family, become Jesus' disciple, belong in his family etc I know that I am worth enough for Jesus to die for me. And like I really know it, not just know in the way I did before. No more stupid, unrealistic scales :)

Discipleship

Something Margaret (my dunker :) ) encouraged me with before my baptism and also gave me a book about on the occasion, is discipleship. Mark mentioned in his sermon on the day about carrying our cross.

Matthew 16:24

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me

My baptism was a challenge to me. A challenge to be a true disciple to Christ, following him no matter what. I felt this was reiterated by the idea that a baptism is a public declaration of your faith. I now feel I have a responsibility to keep my integrity in check. So that would be a bit of rearranging of my plans for summer then! :P I know now my life is not my own as I have chosen to submit it to Christ and that means I need to remember, daily, that I am now living as a disciple of Christ. Mark's words as part of the liturgy were: fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ. And that, is exactly what I intend to do.

Renewal

I knew before I was baptised that it was going to be a form of refreshing and renewing but I think until you go through it and actually are renewed, it's hard to imagine how things could be any different just because you've taken a swim. However, I've already mentioned the new sense of belonging, love and commitment that I experienced through being baptised and I have to admit, I was surprised at how tangible this feeling of renewal was.
I read a really cheesy book once. Actually I lie because it was so corny I couldn't bring myself to read much of it at all. It was called "God winks" Or something like that and the author was clinging to his enlightenment that any coincidence surely must be a wink from God. I'm not sure about the extent of coincidence vs divine intervention bla bla but I don't think it was much of a coincidence how perfect the timing was for my baptism. It was quite a few months ago I told Mark I'd like to be baptised and 30th March seemed such a far off date. Yet the clocks having gone forward the night before and the way it's moved into a new month, I feel as if Spring has sprung quite literally which I feel is such a crafted echo of my 'new season'. In my talk I read out of song of songs and described how the lover tells her husband that "the winters are past" and I couldn't have felt that more strongly when the sun was shining through the stained glass windows. I also liked the way Mark summed up my testimony as my baptism being the beginning of a process. Spring doesn't happen one day at the end of Winter and then just disappear, it starts off by being a little warmer than before and then through the weeks the evenings get lighter and the days warmer and the leaves begin to grow on the trees again etc. And so, I can look forward to things changing over time, in fact, over my whole life.

A glimpse of heaven

People talk about recognising God's spirit and the more time you spend with him the more you are able to know his voice and his touch. Obviously, God's presence is around all the time but certain times it is felt so much more strongly, like at Soul Survivor when thousands of people worship God together or when you see an amazing sunset and the hairs on your arm prickle up. I know the feeling I get when I have a 'recognising God's presence' moment and I have never felt it as strongly as I did on sunday. I kept having the thought 'Oh this day is so good I wish this feeling could last forever' and what is so exciting is that it actually can! And to me, that is such a glimpse of heaven; celebrating God's love together in his presence.
Also, any doubts I had about heaven (being boring etc) were stripped away by the watered (excuse the pun) down version of what it'll actually be like. I was half expecting the anti-climax after the service, but even when packing up after the party there just was no down, because the hope Jesus offers is so real that we can hope for more of Jesus and constant reminding of his love and so there never (ever) has to be a comedown. There was also a lack of the usual 'what now?' feelings that can come after any big event because as I said before, it's the beginning of a process and there is no 'now' because now is the rest of my life and whatever happens will happen over time and there's no need to be disappointed if things aren't instantly sorted.

Acceptance

I found the open baptistry symbolic of the openness of God's grace. I love the fact that anyone in this world is just as entitled as I was to be baptised. Any one of the people in the congragation who didn't know Jesus were welcome to turn their lives to Jesus and be given the same experience as I was, and should practicality have allowed it, they were just as welcome to climb into that baptistry as I was and become a follower of Jesus. And I just love this acceptance of God's.

Romans 5:8
8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

As I said in my testimony, God accepts me with all my faults and problems that come with me and I think that that love and acceptance is mind blowing.

Wholeness

I don't want any of what I've written suggest that before I was baptised I was any less of a Christian but to me being baptised has been the last piece of the puzzle. Thinking back to Jesus' baptism, I think about how the whole trinity was present. Again, I believe this echoes the way choosing to follow Jesus makes us whole, and everything comes together.

And just a last thought

I've also been thinking about the question of whether it's actually necessary to be baptised. I always wondered this myself cos I felt like a Christian even though I hadn't been baptised and I wondered what it would actually do. I never came to a particular conclusion about this and my main reason for just going for it was 'why not, what am I going to lose'. There was a greater risk that I'd be losing out by not being baptised than by being baptised. All I can say about all this is that I can see why God wants people to get baptised. It's fun, it's a nice occasion, it's us using our free will to respond to God, it's an opportunity for us to see God's power at work, it's good for the church and also for the non Christians who witness it. It's just a great thing and I'm sure when Jesus took his dunking, it was fully in his mind that his followers would follow in his footsteps.

I've decided I probably think about things far too much, and I hope I haven't baffled anyone who watched my baptism and couldn't see anymore in it than if they had watched me accidentally fall into a river. But I hope that, if that is the case, then it's now a bit clearer that there was a lot more to it (even if some of the 'more' is slightly tenuously linked). I admit that I myself, wasn't even expecting the event to mean so much. It reminds me of in Narnia (I love how everything Christian ever has a link back to Narnia) when Lucy asks about Aslan's next movements, Tumnus tells her "He is not a tame lion" which I believe suggests he just can't be second guessed. We can expect great things from God but we can just never guess when he is going to give us something even greater.



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