Sunday 12 January Baptism of Christ 1 Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 3: 13 – end
Of all my predecessors, the one I would most like to have tea at the Ritz with is Lancelot Andrewes, Anglican Divine, scholar, linguist, Bishop and Vicar of St Giles’ 1588 – 1604. If his erudition overwhelmed me, we could always discuss sandwich fillings and the decor.
He would be especially useful in preparing today’s sermon as he preached and wrote at length on baptism. Here is the whole Trinity in person, the Son in the water, the Holy Spirit as a dove and God in the voice. The only other time the Trinity appears in the bible – Andrewes reminds us – is at the very beginning, the beginning of creation. There we find God, and the word was God creating, and the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters.’ In the baptism of Christ, we have the new creation.’
The refrain of his sermon to the Court of James 1 in 1615 is that in baptism the ‘Gates of heaven are opened’ ‘And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him.’ In baptism nothing can separate us from the love of God. What follows his baptism is an important stage in Jesus’s setting out on his ministry. After a baptism we might go on to a party, eat nice food and a piece of cake, and back to work on Monday. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus goes straight into the wilderness to understand his vocation before his ministry begins. A question for us about the love of God – those gates opened to heaven – in times of wilderness.
Andrewes wanted to involve the people at every stage of a baptism – although he was a bishop by the time he preached to the Court – he had been among people as a parish priest. The faithful at St Giles’ had helped shape his ministry. Today’s account – Matthew’s – indicates baptism as a private matter - John was the only witness. That’s why Andrewes preferred Luke’s account. ‘Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized.’ His message: Jesus was baptized among the people in the river, not in a basin by himself.’ No special privileges for posh people, no private baptisms in royal chapels.
I don’t know where the font would have been in the church Andrewes knew. In making their improvements, the Victorians placed it between north and south doors, where the organ loft now is. Perhaps the St Luke’s font is in the more original position, to remind us as we come into church of our baptism. Theologically it would make more sense to have the font directly at or by the north door, so we couldn’t miss it. But it be a trip hazard and get in our way and we can’t have that.
A liturgist comments that, ‘Many discussions about baptism ‘policy’ at a local level fail to take into account that baptism is primarily an act of God and a focus for His grace in the future. Jesus did not have to qualify for God’s anointing Spirit. The anointing Spirit was given freely.’
So what do we require locally? What barriers do we put in the way of God’s grace? What qualifications do we require? My Roman Catholic colleague stipulates that one or both of the parents is baptized a Catholic – which, when pressed, he modified to ‘baptised within the Roman Catholic church’ which is more like it. Also, one of the godparents has to be ‘baptised a Catholic’ as he would put it. Baptisms – especially ones with lots of family and friends, happen outside the main Sunday service. So, the family are not made to feel awkward by the Mass.
My Methodist colleague will do 2 for 1 if neither parent is baptised – ie one or both of the parents are baptized with the baby. For her the question is what the impetus is to have the baby baptized when they themselves are not? She feels there is room for exploration and preparation. Baptisms happen in the service on Sunday morning.
I like to think I have a completely open approach – except I don’t. Families we have not met before are invited to come to church on two Sunday mornings before the baptism, and to come back afterwards to the Christingle Service which seems reasonable to me. Common Worship helps me make by point about attendance – I say, that there are words of welcome for everyone to say and we can’t welcome a child we have never met before. Oh yes, I will do the baby…but, and if someone you want to be a godparent is not baptized, they may be sponsor but not a godparent. Baptisms happen on Sunday mornings within the Eucharist even if you do plan to bring 150 guests. I am with Luke here, not in private with Matthew.
It was a Sunday morning and there was a baptism. I was a curate and getting used to the surprising manifestation of the grace of God. The baptism has taken place. The intercessions been offered. We stood for the Peace. All the hand shaking indicated to the baptism party that we had come to the end of the service. They too shook hands and then left. There was a big window onto the street and the clergy could see what was happening. We were singing the offertory hymn and they were having a cigarette before getting into their cars.
On another Sunday morning we were waiting for the baby to arrive with her family and friends. We’d done the visit, filled in the form, the church was set up, but there was no baby, so we had to start the service without them. They didn’t turn up. Perhaps they couldn’t get up in time, suggested my colleague. There was a message during the week, could we do the baptism at their house because it would be easier to video. A few Sundays later they did show up on a Sunday morning and the baby was baptized.
In baptism the gates of heaven are opened and reveal the great mystery that is the grace of God.
Sunday 5 January - Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 2: 1 – 12
The God project is hitting the ground – and the visitors have their part to play. On the one hand, the shepherds about their work up on the hillside. They are interrupted by something that frightens them – but not for long. Shepherds are made of sturdy stuff. They are instructed to find the Christ child. They practice their team-building skills – and consult – they said one to another. There is consensus – they will follow these bizarre instructions, no-one has a different idea, no-one says ‘let’s stay here and sleep on it. Better wait for morning.’ They are given the information they need – guesswork is not required - they know their destination. Some of us are happier if we know where we are going, what we are making for. The shepherds followed orders and having seen the child – they made known what had been told them about the child – although no one had suggested they do that. The shepherds followed clear instructions and get where they are supposed to go without mishap.
On the other hand, today’s magi come from the East. Luke’s community could picture a local hillside and put themselves in the story among the shepherds. Matthew’s community are asked to launch themselves into the unknown. The East – the world beyond the Roman Empire, these are visitors from the great gentile beyond. These magi – who in the broader sense of the word could be charlatans and quacks, fairground folk – are not the sort of people who fit easily into holy scripture, or into a known frame of reference.
The travellers saw a star which they knew how to make sense of. Presumably Matthew would allow that there were others who saw the same star, marveled momentarily and went back to eating their supper. ‘Not interested. Too much bother. Leave it to the experts. It’s not for the likes of us.’ The magi have less to go on than the shepherds, they are not told what has happened or where to go. They merely had seen a star at its rising. Matthew implies that the star disappeared after they saw it, and only reappeared after their potentially disastrous visit to Herod. ‘Ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising.’ A lot of this journey is in the dark, this is a far riskier undertaking.
We presume it is their curiosity that motivates them. Why foreigners would want to pay homage to a Jewish king is unexplained. Curiosity seemingly equipped them for their journey and are not afraid of asking for help. ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ They had not done their homework on Herod king of this troublesome region, but their ignorance doesn’t make them cautious or stop them asking.
These enquiries cause a full-scale political crisis – all Herod’s staff are summoned. Rightly so, the birth of Jesus is a threat to worldly thrones and empires. The magi do get to pay homage to the child, they pay attention to a dream that comes upon one or all of them and leave for their country by another road. Mission accomplished.
All they had to go on was a star at the beginning and end of their journey – much of their way was without glittery guidance. Instead it was their initiative, their hunch, their instinct and curiosity that kept them going mile after mile. That, in the end, it would all prove worthwhile. And yet, on the face of it, so very little to go on – and who trusts hunches?
‘Let manger, star and angel choir unhinge us from our sleep and sorrows,’ says the poet. (Vajda) What does it mean to be unhinged by a star?’ It may have something to do with being thrown off-balance, especially when we seem to have lost sight of our star and find ourselves thrown back on our own resources.
At primary school I was on the side of the magi every time – the costumes were so much more interesting than the dressing gowns and tea towels of the shepherds. Crowns and shiny gifts, lengths of old velvet curtain: we could do exotic in Wiltshire. There were those who were different among us, although we did not begin to connect our travellers from the east with the magi of the nativity play and their touch and go journey. Anthony’s family were not like us, his Russian grandmother sat by the fire in the kitchen and drank tea without milk. His father was a furrier. Anthony explained to the class what a furrier was because we didn’t know. Jan’s family had come from Poland. His mother cooked funny food and lots of cabbage. The east was an unknown country that revealed itself in everyday living if only we had recognized it at the time.
There is a search for difference underway in Whitehall. Magi are seen as necessary for new ways of doing things. Star gazers are being invited to apply, described as, ‘Super-talented weirdos.’ The search is on for an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds because, according to a key adviser, it’s time for radical reform. The adviser also requires a personal assistant who will need extreme curiosity and be prepared to give up weekends on a regular basis. The adviser is looking for the brilliant, the troublesome and the innovators.
Fairground folk, not conventional young professionals in suits. This innovative approach may attract annoying people who might not look right or who lack social graces, but if they are loyal and signed up to the project you could not wish for better workers. Time will tell if this wacky approach is worth it.
Magi – a story of travellers who were unhinged by a star and thrown off balance into risky living. A story for all time, a story for now.
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
Registered Charity Number 1138077
January – March 2020 Installation of new lighting
Monday – Friday 11.00am – 4.00pm
Limited access only during the week
An area of the church will be available for private prayer
Sunday services will be as usual.
10.00 Family Eucharist
08.00 Holy Communion (First Sunday in the month)
16.00 Evening Prayer30
Evening Prayer may be cancelled on the Sunday after Christmas and on Easter Day or during August. The service may also be cancelled if no key holder is available or it may take place in the rectory instead.
08.30 Morning Prayer (Monday-Thursday)
The church is normally open from 11.00-16.00 Monday to Friday.
Monthly Private Prayer and Reflection
These sessions are held on the first Thursday of the month., from 13.00-13.30.
6 February, 5 March,
2 April, 7 May, 4 June, 2 July,
No session in August, 3 September, 1 October, 5 November, 3 December.
These sessions are normally held on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.00. Some gentle cleaning and tea and cakes at the end.
6 February, 5 March,
2 April, 7 May, 4 June, 2 July,
No session in August, 3 September, 1 October, 5 November, 3 December
2020 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
Monday 27 January
Tuesday 5-May (*Supper)
Monday 29 June
Tuesday 15 September
Monday 23 November
*19.30 in the Rectory
Parish Office Opening Hours
Tel: 020 7638 1997