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Clothed with Christ
Fred Nye, June 23rd, 2013

Perhaps itís yet another sign of getting old, but Iím finding find history, and particularly archaeology, increasingly absorbing. From cave paintings and long barrows to the pyramids, ancient monuments can tell us not only how our ancestors lived, but also how they thought about themselves, and their gods. ĎSermons in stonesí, as you might say.

If you visit the legendary palace of Minos in Crete, which dates from about 1500 BC, you will see several so called Ďlustral basinsí. Used for ritual washing and purification they are elaborate sunken chambers, pillared and porticoed. In one of them a number of clay jars were found, thought to have contained myrrh for anointing the worshipers. But only one set of stone steps leads down into the chamber, so you have to leave by the way you came in. Purified and perfumed you may have been, but afterwards you had no option but to return to the messy old world which you had been trying to escape.

On the island of Cyprus you will come across something which at first glance is rather similar. On the site of the ancient cathedral at Kourion, dating from around 450 AD, there are the remains of an early Christian baptistery. In it you will find another deep sunken chamber, but this time filled with water and in the shape of a cross, with steps leading down into it on one side, and out again on the other. It is the pool in which Christian converts were baptised. But this time the surroundings are far from sumptuous: the baptistery itself is dark and cramped; hardly more than a narrow corridor.

Imagine for a moment that you are being baptised in that church 1500 years ago. Itís Easter Sunday, all the baptism candidates are adults, and you have all received months of preparation and instruction. When the moment comes to be baptised youíre stripped of your clothes, and lead forward into that dark corridor. Then thereís nothing for it but to stumble down the steps, into the cool clear water. Your head is plunged under the surface, and you come up gasping for air, your feet searching for the steps in front of you.

And then the scene changes dramatically. Ahead are bright lights, and the sound of music and singing. The presiding bishop dresses you in a pure white robe, and you enter the cathedral, to join the whole Christian community celebrating together Our Lordís resurrection. And, for the very first time, you receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.
The symbolism in our baptism today may have lost some of that drama Ė but what God is doing is no different. That dark baptistery is a reminder, not perhaps a very fashionable one,  that left to our own devices we can so easily fall victim to our own self-interest, or self loathing, to all those shadows of the soul  that are so destructive to ourselves and others. We all need the grace of baptism in which God forgives us and accepts us, just as we are, and stripped of all pretence. The unconditional love of God for us his children, takes us from one realm to another, from darkness to light. Unlike the lustral basin, the font sets us free. But the change can come as a shock, and most of us donít like too much change, even if itís for the better.
There was an old superstition that if a baby cried at the moment of baptism, it was because the Devil was being driven out. I donít buy that. I prefer to think of that cry as the inrush of the Holy Spirit, the first startled breath of a new child of God.

The cool clear baptismal waters restore and refresh us and give us new life, and we enter a different world where everything and everyone are seen through Godís compassionate eyes. But it would be a mistake to pretend that His kingdom has already come here on earth. Our society is often very far from just or compassionate, and it can be a struggle to keep on our feet and maintain Godís values in a fallen world. Any parent of young children or teenagers will know this only too well, and will also know that the need to pray for our children never ends. But in this struggle we gain strength from the Cross, which shows us just how much God was prepared to sacrifice himself for us, a constant reassurance that love will win.

My favourite symbol is the baptismal robe. After the water had been poured over our youngest granddaughter at her baptism, the priest wrapped her in a brand new shawl. It was like that precious moment at home when each evening she is lifted from her bath and wrapped in a fluffy warm towel, surrounded by love, and cradled in love.  But there is more to it than that. St. Paul puts it like this  Ė ĎAs many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourself with Christí. In following Our Lord, through prayer, our membership of the family of the church, and above all through the strength and nourishment we receive week by week at the Eucharist, we are helped to be a little bit more like him. Sometimes I try to think of the baptismal robe as a tunic, the same sort of tunic, seamless and woven in one piece, that Christ himself wore on his way to Calvary. Our prayer is that if we can clothe ourselves in his Christ-like graces, above all in his love and compassion, then we can become at last his new creation.

Every day, each Christian soul embarks afresh on the journey from darkness to light, and from the values of a fallen world to the new life in Christ. Today as newly baptised members of Godís family, Klarissa and Charlie are our pioneers. And may God bless them, and us, on our journey towards the light and music of his love.

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