2 Samuel 1:17-27+Psalm 10:1-5, 12-14+(1 Thessalonians 4:3-18)+John 16:16-22
For the past week and a half, more friends than I can count have been glued to their televisions or computers, watching the endless coverage of the movement of Queen Elizabeth’s coffin from Balmoral to Edinburgh to Westminster, and without doubt, tomorrow they will arise early and watch the funeral from Westminster Abbey. The queen was beloved of her family, in particular, and millions more for whom she was sovereign, and I pray God’s comfort for those who mourn her.
At the same time, I am increasingly wary (and weary) of the cult of celebrity which surrounds her and all royalty, an idolization that overlooks the vast amounts of wealth in their possession, much of it taken from countries that had been subjugated under the empire. One wonders what good Queen Elizabeth might have done had she been able to step outside of what she believed to be her duty to actually begin to make reparations for the empire and all its ills.
Alas, she, like all of us, was simply a human being with feet of clay.
Of the many tributes and essays written about Queen Elizabeth, none moved me more than one penned by a friend of mine that focused on her baptism. Much has been made of her deep and abiding faith, even as one can’t help wondering if her conscience was ever pricked by the knowledge of the damage British imperialism caused around the world. Be that as it may, my friend’s essay was entitled “The Font Completed.” This is part of what he wrote:
The persons who brought the baby girl to the font did not know what sincerity she would give to the promises they made on her behalf, and this is the great gamble of infant baptism. We never know if our children will choose to run the race with the equipment we provide, if they will wear the spiritual armor or hold the banner, if they will apply themselves diligently to learning and humility and quietness. The odd work of grace in this case is that it all took — seed on good soil, watered in due season, bearing its fruit in tranquillities of faithfulness and order that will not be repeated because they were God’s and hers in one combination — the same combination available to every person.
This is the great gamble of baptism. We bring our children into a community of faith and make promises on their behalf that they are free to ignore or fulfill as they grow to adulthood. We can do our best to assure that their faith receives the kind of tending it requires to grow, the fertilizer of regular church attendance and the water of learning the story of our faith and how that is practiced in the world. It all takes faith and persistence on our parts – not just the parents but those of us who promise to support the child. This can mean a lot of things:
- helping out in Sunday School;
- giving a parent a hand when juggling a squirmy infant and energetic toddler;
- pledging to this parish to assure that we can build our programs for children and youth.
As Jesus said his final words to the disciples in John’s gospel, after he had washed their feet, after Judas had departed, in the waning hours of the night before the soldiers came for him, he recognizes that he has done all he can do. They will either carry on or they won’t. They have no understanding of what he is saying to them, and, if the texts from the early church are to be properly understood, they only understood when they remembered the things he had said and done through the lens of the resurrection and ascension. Just as it is sometimes easier to understand how we wound up where we are only in hindsight, the disciples were like that, too.
At the end of his long address to them, Jesus prays over them, just as we pray over those brought to us to be baptized. We pray that God will “Sustain them…in (the) Holy Spirit,” will “give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love (God), and the gift of joy and wonder in all (God’s) works” (BCP 308). And then we begin the watering and the fertilizing and the praying on behalf of Daisy and Lucas, who are to be baptized in a few minutes, and Stevie who was baptized at the 9:00 service.
Among the many things that we hold in hope is that when they, and we, come to the end of our days, we will have faithfully carried out the promises made on our behalf in our baptism, to bring to completion what was done at the font as we join in the eternal worship with all the saints. As my friend Richard also wrote
Our purpose as people who have been baptized is to strengthen the others who run, to cheer them along, to make their paths straighter, brighter, better, and safer, to continue in teaching and fellowship together as we seek the mind of Christ with the promises of the Comforter’s presence.
Death for every Christian is the exchanging of any earthly honor or power for a heavenly crown, because God’s promises ratified in sacraments pull us into the heavenly places at every repetition of the last supper until the Lord returns.
May it be so for Stevie and Daisy and Lucas. And for us, too.