Baptism

I am not known for my sporting prowess. It has become easier over the years to hide my lack of sporting ability by putting my energies into other things. But when I was at school (and it was a school which took sports very seriously) it was an ongoing source of terror for me.

Whilst most of my friends were out playing soccer over lunch time I was far more interested in working out how computers (which were relatively new in those days) could be programmed and played about with. My love of computers was balanced in equal measure by my hatred of cricket, and my lack of ability at cricket was almost legendary.

I remember one afternoon as the teams were being picked for a cricket match being one of two people left unselected, hoping beyond hope that I would not be the booby prize which someone was forced to accept. Well sure enough the girl who was extremely short-sighted was picked ahead of me, and the other team was simply left with “Battrick.”  All of this came to a head a few weeks later when I was visiting a friend’s home with others and it became clear that unless I was going to cause an enormous scene I would have to join in the game of cricket which he wanted to play in the garden. As usual I was sent to my customary fielding position of “left right out” which meant that except for a couple of balls coming my way each match, I was basically free to day-dream.

It was during one such day dreaming moment that I became aware that my name was being called frantically by the other members of my team. As I looked up I saw to my horror a cricket ball hurtling in my direction. I put my hands out, closed my eyes and felt it land at my feet.  Well that was that, except that I had to throw it back. So I picked it up and with all my strength threw it towards the centre of the garden. It was a majestic throw, which went right past the wicket keeper at the crease, past the fielders on the other side of him, and straight through the kitchen window, into the washing up bowl of my friend’s mother – leaving shattered glass everywhere.

Now I was really in trouble. Not just from the wrath that was to come from my friend’s parents, but also now from my friends, who had ceased to be my friends and had become a judge and jury.  My friend’s mother came out of the back door with a face like thunder, and I began to talk about the fact that my mother would pay the price for the damage to be fixed… she was very cross, I was very afraid.  And then my friend’s father came out of the house: surely (I thought), things cannot get any worse than they are already.  Well, he came over to me, put his arm on my shoulders and said, “never mind, these things happen. Boys will be boys – it is only a broken window – why don’t we fix it together?”  And so we did, with my other friends. We helped where we could as my friend’s father replaced the window so that it was as good as new.

In our Gospel reading this morning we are back on the first day of the resurrection of Jesus. We are a few hours on from where we were last Sunday (Easter Day) when some of the disciples discovered that the tomb was empty. Time has stood still over this past week, and the Gospel story is still almost where we left it.

The friends of Jesus are huddled together in an upstairs room, the doors are bolted firmly shut for fear of those outside who might come and accuse them of having any connection with Jesus who was crucified three days earlier.  These friends of Jesus have been listening in bewilderment to the stories of Mary Magdalene and Peter who have been telling them that when they went to the cave where Jesus was buried they found that the stone which had blocked up the tomb was gone, and that Jesus’ body was missing.

As they sat there in the room, they went over in their minds and in their discussions the events of the previous few days. On Thursday they had shared a last meal together with their friend Jesus, and on Friday they had seen him brutally crucified. They knew that he had died on that cross and that he had been taken to a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, and that he had been laid there with myrrh provided by Nicodemus.  Those friends huddled together in fear, thought back further to the events of the previous three years. The air in the room was full of the stories of Jesus – about his miracles and teaching, and compassion for others.  But on that morning, the first day of the week, they had been startled by the news of Mary Magdalene and Peter that something strange had happened at the tomb, that the stone had been rolled away and that the body was missing.  And then the assertion by Mary that she had actually met Jesus in the garden and that he was alive. Could this be true? Or was Mary simply dillusional?

As they discussed all of these things, as we heard in our Gospel reading, Jesus entered the room. This same Jesus who had been crucified, now stood amongst them, alive once more.  His first words to them were “peace be with you.” We will say those words to each other a little later in our Eucharist – as a reminder that wherever Christ is present there will ultimately be peace.

Just think about the situation for a moment. Jesus was betrayed by one of his friends, beaten, falsely accused, beaten again, nailed to a cross, and left to die. Whilst that was going on his best friends deserted him for fear of their own lives, and his closest friend, Peter, even told people that he had never met Jesus, when he was asked if he knew him.  For many of us the opportunity to return to life after all of that had happened, who herald the beginning of a campaign of revenge. We might want to search out those who had beaten us and give them some of their own medicine. We might want to confront our so-called friends to find out why they had betrayed us.  But Jesus’ way, according to the Gospel account, is a very different way. He returns from what seemed to be monumental betrayal and failure and instead of revenge he offers peace and love.  That reality alone, at the heart of the Easter story, must challenge the way that we think about God. It must confront what we imagine God to be like.

Some of us grew up in a Church which believed that God really did not like us much at all. That he was always watching to catch us out doing something wrong, and to punish us for it. Some of us will even have heard about a God who deliberately tries to trick us and test us in order to show us what failures we are.  Those cannot be descriptions of the God that we find in Jesus, because we find in Jesus a very different way of imagining what God is like.

The Easter story reminds us that first and foremost God longs to be our friend. He is not our accuser, he’s our advocate. God is not against us, he is on our side – on the side of all of humanity.

Jesus’ treatment of the friends that have let him down, teaches us a very different way of understanding what God is like.  God made us as we are, susceptible to getting things wrong, and also to getting a great many things right. And being like we are means that sometimes we will throw cricket balls through windows by accident, and sometimes we may even deliberately cause people great pain, and sometimes (like some of the first friends of Jesus) we will even deny the love of God in our lives.  And yet the good news of the resurrection of Jesus is that whatever we do there is nothing which can separate us from the love of God, not now, and not ever.

Someone said to me the other week, as I was asking them about their life, that they had always been a Christian. No one has always been a Christian, just like none of us has always been married, (although sometimes it might feel like that for some of us!) Becoming a Christian happens at a decisive point, during the sacrament of baptism, of christening.  Christians are made, not born.

That is one of the things which we have gathered here to do this morning.  To make Isabella a friend of God, a Christian, a part of the body of Jesus, and a full member (forever, no matter whatever) of his Church. That is what baptism means. It means that from this point onwards, she, like the rest of us, will be fully connected with the life, and death and resurrected life of Jesus.

It means that there is nothing that she (like we) can do to make God love us any more than God already loves her.  It means that there is nothing that she (like we) can do to make God love her any less.  It means that God already loves her, just like God already loves the rest of us, as much as an infinite God can possibly love anyone.  There is nothing that Isabella will be able to do to lose that love, and there is nothing that she will be able to do to extend it any further, because it is already at maximum, through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and that is where it will stay. And that is the Easter message of hope.

When Jesus is resurrected from the dead he does not come to bring revenge, (to punish those who killed him, or to sort out those who betrayed him) he comes to offer peace. And he says to his friends, when he meets them in that upstairs room, that he wants them to be part of this new resurrected life as well. He wants them to be people who are peacemakers, who are forgivers of sins.  This morning, as we are all reminded that that is what God wants for us as well, we pray especially that it will be so in the life of Isabella, and the life of her parents and god parents and her two brothers.

God is not in the business of punishing us for breaking things, he is here with us by his Holy Spirit to help us to fix them up. That was the message of the resurrected Jesus to his friends on that first day of his rising from the dead.  It is his message to us as well as we celebrate the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion this morning.