One of the things I love most in the Episcopal Church is the way our liturgical year circles around repeatedly to remind us of our entry into the Church through baptism. This Sunday, the Feast of All Saints, we will again repeat together and affirm for ourselves the covenant made in our names at the time of our baptism. These promises are usually made in our stead—but several times a year, we get a chance to commit ourselves anew to those markers of a Christian life.
Especially as we face the strains and anxieties of the last week before this election, and as we watch COVID19 infections spiral upward, we may wonder what we can do, right now, to enact peace and justice in our communities. Our worship gives us guidance, and specific guidance, at that.
The first three questions, found on pp. 304-305 in the Book of Common Prayer, recapitulate the Apostles Creed by asking, “Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?” The last five questions then move to actions that flow out of those beliefs—actions that outline the wisdom of God that bears good fruit in our lives. We know that these questions shift from beliefs to action by the change in the question words themselves, in the shift from “Do you believe?” to “Will you?”
Listen to the active verbs in these questions:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
And in answer to each question, we answer “I will, with God’s help.” That’s also key.
The life of faith is NEVER a life lived in isolation, thrown upon our own meager and faltering resources. The life of faith is always strengthened and aided by God’s abundant mercy, grace and love. The life of faith is lived in community with God and with each other. That’s why we celebrate baptism in the midst of community. That’s why the wisdom of welcome and love is so important. And that also why the wisdom of welcome and love we are called to practice as a community of wisdom seekers is so extraordinary when actually put into practice.
Will you continue in learning, in fellowship, communion, and prayer?
Will you persevere against sin, repent, and return when you miss the mark?
Will you proclaim God’s good news of reconciliation by who you are and what you say?
Will you seek, and serve, and love all persons as much as seek, serve, and love yourself?
Will you strive and respect every human being, and not just tolerate but celebrate their dignity—rich or poor, sick or well, friend or stranger, old or young?
This is the wisdom of welcome, beloveds, that we are called to commit to as disciples. Wisdom that doesn’t seek advantage or calculation, but, always and everywhere, serving each other in purity, gentleness, and love.
Ultimately, as we recite these statements again, we are called to reach down deep inside ourselves and determine if we are, indeed willing—to commit an act of will—to dedicate ourselves
to work for God’s values,
to respect each person?
The heart of the Christian life is shared life. A shared life is an abundant life. The promises we make as Christians we make with one voice in community at baptism– as individuals, yes, but also as the community of Jesus in this place, within the universal Church that exists through time. With God’s help, may we always re-member and embody the welcome we have received into Christ’s Body, and continue to witness to the abundant welcome and love of God we each ourselves receive, again and again, through our Savior, Jesus. No matter what the coming days might bring, we have hope, because we have God’s help.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.