By Fr. Travis O’Brian
St. Barnabas Church Victoria, Rector
According to the Gospel of St Matthew, the very last words Jesus shared with his disciples were those we read this morning:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
How fitting, as we gather on this Trinity Sunday to celebrate the baptism of Ross Matthewson, that Jesus explicitly evokes the name of the Trinity in reference to baptism, and in the context of his promise of never-failing faithfulness.
Jesus instructs his disciples to baptise in the name of the Trinity. Baptism is to be the seal of his Covenant with them – his promise that their love for one another will never fail; that as long as they turn to him, they shall find him present with them; that they shall be his people, and he shall be their God. Except the promise Jesus makes goes beyond Jesus alone, for the mystery of baptism is this: that the love Jesus offers is not his love alone. The love Jesus offers is God’s, is one and the same love shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this way, baptism brings us into the very centre of the life of God. Moreover, we discover that even our love for Jesus is not ours alone, but is the Holy Spirit at work in us – that is to say, we discover God has been with us even before we knew to call upon him by name.
So by baptism we live in the assurance that our life is one with God’s life; that we have been given to share in the One Love that is the life of God. In loving confidence, we offer ourselves to be submerged by water. Love unites us to Christ’s death; and we pledge to die to everything that separates us from God. So we say that by baptism, our sins are forgiven. Let us understand, this word ‘sin’ does not mean that we are all wicked. In the same way, neither does the great blessing that God pronounces over all creation, “it is very good,” mean we are well-behaved, morally correct. Rather, this word ‘sin’ signifies all the ways in which our lives are shaped by the forces of separation – separation from one another, from our true selves, from creation – ultimately from the love and life of God. And our ‘goodness’ in turn signifies that we are beloved of God; that despite the ways in which we align ourselves with the powers of separation from one another and from God, God nevertheless will not separate himself from us. Baptism is our acknowledgement that since we cannot remain always faithful to Love ourselves, we are in desperate need for Love to be faithful to us. And so He is. However often we fall, however often we believe that God has turned his face from us; however we might cry with Naomi that “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me,” we nevertheless will find that the moment we break, the moment we are able to receive His love, He is there to receive us.
Well, all this is perhaps beginning to sound more theological than I intended. But I hope I shall be forgiven for waxing theological on Trinity Sunday! And I pray we are able to glimpse the mystery of which our baptism invites us. This life of atomization and loneliness which we live is not what is really real. Christ is with us to the end of the age – that is to say, the time when God will be ‘all in all,’ the time when we are, along with the whole of creation, returned to perfect and Holy Communion. Baptism is our promise that in Christ, the Holy Communion shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is already begun to be shared also with us, and indeed with all created things. Baptism is our ‘entry’ into the promise of that new creation.
Ross, Patience, Kristin, Brad. Our lives are held within the mystery of God’s grace; and I at least find it good to think on these mysteries; to strive to love with all my mind the infinite Love who is God for us. But in the day to day life of our families, all we need really to know is Christ’s promise: “I will be with you always.” And we need to know this, not just as a piece of information, but we need to know it in a way that shapes the life of our home. God has created the family to be an image of the life of the Trinity, the common life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For to be a family is to know that one love binds each person to each and each to all in one common life; and it is also to know that this common life at the same time gives each individual to be him or herself more completely than could otherwise be possible.
The reason why disfunction and the break-down of relationship in families is always so painful and destructive is precisely because of this intention that our families reflect the Love of the Trinity in this way. That it is also the why we must, as a family, always to turn to God’s promise of grace, as the source of the patience, long-suffering, and love without which we cannot live together.
So the image of the Trinity is deeply ingrained in our hopes and desires regarding our intimate family. But at the same time, today, baptism creates and unites us to a much larger family: the family of Christ’s Church, the family we call “the communion of Saints.” And the life of this family, united as it is in Communion beyond the limits of of blood, nation, or culture, God intends even more perfectly to reflect the life of the Trinity, the life of the One love who is God. We who are gathered here, and the whole of the communion of saints on earth and in heaven, are celebrating Ross’ baptism today. So let us pray that we may live in spirit and in truth the life of this love which binds us and frees us – the love manifest by Christ: the One love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And may we be renewed in the life of that Holy Communion every time we join together at the altar of God’s never-failing love.