There are several days throughout the Christian year that are appropriate for Christian baptism, one of which is the Easter Vigil. This year, we will have the opportunity as a community to welcome a new member to the Body of Christ on this wonderful night through the Rite of Baptism. Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. Baptism is not a private affair, but a communal event in which we welcome candidates into the community. It was through the waters of the Red Sea that the whole people of Israel were set free, and it is through the waters of Baptism that the Body of Christ is set free our bondage of sin. It is through baptism that we follow the example of Christ and by it we participate in the Paschal Mystery of his death and resurrection: “In it we are buried with Christ in his death,” and “by it we share in his resurrection.” (Book of Common Prayer p. 306) In the Thanksgiving over the Water, our theology of Baptism is clearly stated in the phrase, “We bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)
It is in our common belief in God the Holy Spirit acting in the world and through the church, the communion of all God’s people, the forgiveness of sins, our hope of the resurrection and the life everlasting that forms our understanding of the community of God. In the baptismal covenant we recognize the community’s call corporately and as individuals to be witnesses to the Good News of God in Christ through our lives. We also promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself,” and “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (Book of Common Prayer p. 305)
The baptismal service this year at the Easter Vigil may be a little different from those held in the past. The baptismal font will be located at and remain at the door of the church and the Paschal Candle will remain near the front of the church. This is not a new way of doing the liturgy, but a recapturing of the ancient practices of Baptism. In the first few centuries of the church, baptisms always took place at the door of the church to remind the candidates and the congregation that baptism was the “door to entering the community.” With the Liturgical Movement of the mid 20th century and the advent of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Rite of Baptism has been transformed to once again, recapture the early symbolism of the rite. Thus, the baptism for the candidate at the Easter Vigil will take place at the present location of the font (near the church doors). The rite will begin with “The Presentation and Examination of the Candidates,” and the participants will sit in the front row until the phrase, “The Candidate(s) for Holy Baptism will now be presented,” at which time they will stand. The entire congregation however, will remain seated until the reciting of the Baptismal Covenant at which time, the participants and the congregation will stand together. This will reflect the nature of the community expressing their solidarity with the candidates in their Trinitarian faith. The congregation and participants will remain standing through the prayers for the candidates.
After the prayers, an acolyte will carry the Paschal candle and process to the font followed by the celebrant and the candidate/sponsors/godparents. The congregation will turn and face the candidate and those who would like to gather with them at the font are welcome. It is with the community gathered with the candidate at baptism that heightens the symbolism of baptism as the act of initiation into the Body of Christ, the church. After the baptism and while at the font, the celebrant will say, “Let us welcome the newly baptized,” after which the people and celebrant together say, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection,
and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” After this statement and prior to the peace, the newly baptized will process behind the Paschal candle and celebrant to the front of the nave and both the participants and congregation will remain standing. It is at this point that the congregation gathered, which now includes the newly baptized, will greet each other and after that the celebrant will announce the exchange of the peace. It is after that the newly baptize will receive communion for the first time.
It is through the waters of baptism that we all enter into the Body of Christ, the Church. I pray you will join us for the Easter Vigil on April 7th and welcome the newest Christian to our flock.