But what happens to the s…

But what happens to the significance of Baptism when it becomes a nice thing to do for a new baby? What happens to baptism when the process of initiation into a new way of life is just as foreign to the members of the congregation as it is to the people requesting baptism. If there is only ‘acceptance and inclusion’ then the order of baptism and Eucharist makes no difference at all. If all we know is ‘Everyone is perfect just as they are’ then there is no distinctly Christian life into which anyone can be initiated: there is no Christian life that has to be learned and practised.

When I was younger, I remember walking around the house at home during the holidays saying ‘Mum! I want to make something!!’ She would say ‘Oh you dear! You must be craving for something.’ So I’d go underneath our house and pull things apart or make things out of what we had to hand.

I remember once reading about the positive value of boredom! The author says that boredom is the ‘pre-condition’ of creativity. When I’m bored I am saying ‘I would rather be doing something other than what I’m doing, but I don’t know what it is just yet!’ But once the ‘Ah Ha’ moment comes, the creativity flows, and I’m in the moment, and flowing as a person. I’m not bored any more!

Later on, this sense of unfulfilled desire was transferred to relationships. Being single for a lot of my life, I used to long for the love of a good woman (which thankfully I’ve found!).  But my friend said to me ‘You know, the monks say that all longing is really longing for God!’ Well that might be true. But since we are not just ‘spirits’ but have bodies, longing for God is also longing for physical touch and intimacy. That is why marriage is a sacrament. This is what the monks did not understand. God can’t give you a hug. Or better, God can give you a hug, but it comes in the form of another person. Then I can get the picture. The hug is God’s hugging of me as well as my spouses!

These thoughts were suggested to me by an article I read in a Church magazine in Canada. The article was discussing the fact that now, some parishes are admitting unbaptized people to communion. The argument goes ‘All are included at God’s table. The Eucharist is a ‘converting sacrament’. The Eucharist and the font are part of the same reality. The font leads to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist leads to the font (for some people). Both sacraments invite us to participate in the life of God.’

The other argument about allowing everyone to come to communion derives from the picture of a little child kneeling at the communion rail. They hold out their hands in innocence with their mother beside them. The priest distributing the elements is torn. The first question is one of self interest. “What does the mother think? Is she encouraging the child or not? Can the priest stand the thought of being accosted after church by a mother saying ‘You denied my child!!!! Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me!’ And on it goes. The second question is ‘Here is a person holding out their hands for God. Can I refuse them?

Well one of the respondents to this set of ideas said ‘Well, who said that longing and yearning were bad things to be satisfied as soon as possible?’ This author knew about the positive value of longing which drives us to creativity. This person knew about the positive of value of longing that makes us value what is offered, because it is not just available to everyone ad libidum. Reading the early Church Fathers, one most often reads about ‘not offering what is holy to the dogs’ or ‘not casting your pearls before swine.’ These are not popular ideas, not least because the people who are denied are identified with ‘dogs’ and ‘swine’. Little people reaching out their hands for communion are not ‘dogs’ or swine’. But none the less, the early church is unanimous. The order is Baptism first, then Eucharist.

In theological terms, a baptism with its three elements of instruction, water bath and ministries in the Spirit is the sacrament that makes a Christian person (a Church person) out of an ordinary (civil) person. The Eucharist is the repeatable part of that sacrament. The Eucharist derives its meaning from Baptism, because in the Eucharist, we repeat the process of Dying, Entombment and Rising that is first given to us in Baptism.

But what happens to the significance of Baptism when it becomes a nice thing to do for a new baby? What happens to baptism when the process of initiation into a new way of life is just as foreign to the members of the congregation as it is to the people requesting baptism. If there is only ‘acceptance and inclusion’ then the order of baptism and Eucharist makes no difference at all. If all we know is ‘Everyone is perfect just as they are’ then there is no distinctly Christian life into which anyone can be initiated: there is no Christian life that has to be learned and practised.

It is true that ‘God shows such love towards us that even while we were sinners Christ died for us’. It is baptism that ‘plunges’ us into that life of dwelling in God which has been opened up for us by Christ. As the letter to the Hebrews says ‘We have complete freedom to go into the most holy place by means of the death of Jesus. He opened up for us a new way, a living way through the curtain, through his own body.’

Those who want to enter the ‘most holy place’ with ‘complete freedom’ must first of all be plunged into the body of Christ and be baptized into his death. They must learn to let Christ be the determiner of their reality. This begins with ‘Just as I am without one plea’ and continues with ‘I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus’

The power of the order Baptism the Eucharist comes from the context of a congregation that knows how to be disciples.

Listen to this quote from Ralph Kiefer, who wrote as long ago as 1975 He says “ There is the pastoral difficulty. The conception of the church as the local community of faith, as vehicle of the experience of the risen Lord …exists only in official text and clerical rhetoric, not as something perceived by the great majority of churchgoers. Our operative model is still that of established church: a bastion of conservation, convention and respectability. For most of us the church is not a dynamic and communal reality but a static institution which ministers to the needs of individuals. The standard by which church life is measured is not conversion but conformity…That conversion should be a matter of any kind of experience is not expected and not really desired.’

St. Augustine said ‘Do not baptize anyone until they are really eager to get into the font’ I agree. Allowing for the yearning for God to grow by keeping the order of ‘Baptism then Eucharist’ is a good thing. But this makes real sense only within the context of a community of disciples who have been initiated into Christ and ‘together seek his face’

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell isnow a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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