SERMON: An Eastertide Baptism Principal Service

SERMON: An Eastertide Baptism Principal Service

Andrew McKearney’s sermon for Sunday 1st May —

‘…a laugh freed for ever and ever.’ (P. Kavanagh)

In a moment we shall be baptising Edward. It’s particularly lovely to be doing this during the Easter season in the life of the Church, because baptism is rooted in Christ’s resurrection from the dead, his risen presence with us here, transforming hearts and lives as he promised: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

The Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, in his poem ‘Lough Derg’ refers to the resurrection of Jesus as ‘…a laugh freed for ever and ever’. It’s a striking image full of joy and freshness and life – the resurrection of Jesus is ‘…a laugh freed for ever and ever’.

The image echoes Psalm 126 where the new life brought by God evokes a similar response from the psalmist: ‘Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with songs of joy.’

And that’s the hallmark of so many of the thoughts and reflections about the resurrection in the New Testament too. Our first reading began: ‘Blessèd be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’

Why so? Because
‘By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’
There’s a sense of joy overflowing, bursting out – it can’t be contained!

Those moments in life are just wonderful when you’re beside yourself with laughter and the tears are rolling down your cheeks. What happens to the others around you? Sometimes bewilderment for sure; but sometimes they too get caught up in the laughter without even knowing what’s so funny! It’s contagious. The ripples of laughter spread out.

That’s the dynamic of the resurrection. It spreads out; others get caught up in it. That’s been the case since the first disciples had their world turned upside down. They saw their risen Lord, ran and told others, shared the incredible news, and it was contagious! So much so that even though others had obviously not seen the risen Christ, it didn’t seem to matter! They too loved him and rejoiced with an indescribable and glorious joy, as our first reading put it.

The risen Christ is the embodiment of joy! There’s not a single encounter between a disciple and the risen Christ that doesn’t transform the disciple from despair to joy. It’s inconceivable that there might be a story of someone meeting the risen Christ and ending up depressed or gloomy! It just wouldn’t make sense!

The dynamic of the resurrection is quite the opposite – that there is a kind of life, a kind of love and joy that is the very essence of Jesus’ identity that is now available, set free, and coming to life in you.

It transformed a group of despondent, downcast disciples into a vibrant, dynamic, joyful movement. That’s what we’ve been hearing about in the readings at church throughout the Easter season. It’s wild!

And on Thursday of this week we’ll be celebrating Christ’s ascension into heaven, the culmination of this Easter season. Christ’s risen presence had brought to birth a community of faith. Of course some still doubted, as we heard from our Gospel reading; but the life of the Church had begun – the laugh had been freed!

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we see portrayed there a picture of the Church poised to take off and transform the known world.

We heard that authority had been given to Jesus by God:
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’
And the response of the disciples was to worship Christ. At the core of every community of faith down the ages is this centring of lives on Christ and offering the only response possible – worship.

What are the disciples then sent out to do?
‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,’ we heard the risen Christ say, ‘baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’

It’s contagious! And in a moment Edward is going to catch it too! Fortunately, if Patrick Kavanagh is right, it’s less like a virus and more like a laugh!

Here is where Edward begins his journey in faith – that’s why fonts are normally placed near the door of the church because baptism marks the beginning of the spiritual life.

Here is where Edward is made a member of the fellowship of faith – that’s why it always feels so right to be baptising someone with us as a congregation present.

Here is where Edward dies to sin and rises to new life – which is why it is so appropriate for the container for the water to be made of jet black stone, contrasting with the fresh, life-giving water that will be poured into it.

Christ is risen, transforming hearts and lives – yours, mine and now Edward’s.

This transformation is boundless.

Or, as Matthew’s Gospel put it, timeless.

Or, as the poet provocatively wrote – like a laugh freed for ever and ever!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!