Friday, January 10, 2014

Bishop's Note: The Collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany

Bishop Eric Menees

A happy and blessed Epiphany to you all! What an action packed few weeks we've had with the Feast of the Incarnation (Christmas), St. Stephen's Day, St. John's Day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, The Feast of the Circumcision, The Feast of the Epiphany, and now, in this first Sunday after the Epiphany, we have the Baptism of Jesus.

This day is especially important to me, in that I was baptized on this date at age 14 in 1975 (yes that puts me at age 52 today - half way to 104!). I prepared for baptism with four weeks of instruction from a truly-believing lay woman, who was the first person to disciple me in the faith. I invited my family and friends to come to church. There I was, dressed in a suit and sitting in the front row. The service was beautiful. We had communion, and I kept waiting for the priest to invite me up for the baptism. He didn't, and at the door as he was greeting people, I asked him if I had gotten the date wrong. His face reddened, and he called people back into the church, where about twenty of the faithful gathered around the font (which the Altar Guild had dutifully prepared) and I publicly renounced Satan and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior! A bit anti-climatic, but there we go.

Fortunately, Archbishop Cranmer was much more intentional than Fr. Bob was about discipleship! Here is the collect for this Sunday:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan didst proclaim him thy beloved Son and anoint him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The collect begins by affirming the biblical narrative found in the gospels of Matthew (Mt. 3:13-17), Mark (Mk 1:9-11), and Luke (Lk 3:21-23), where God declares Jesus to be his beloved Son, as well as in the gospel of John (Jn 1:29-33), in which John the Baptist testifies to the event. In an age where scripture is consistently challenged for accuracy, it is nice to know that Archbishop Cranmer had no doubt as to the truth of scripture. And this Sunday, as we pray this collect, the accuracy of the biblical story is reaffirmed!

Just as His baptism marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, so too our public ministry is affirmed in this collect. "Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made..." Our public ministry begins and ends in obedience to the promises and vows made to God in our baptism...can you imagine what the church would look like if all baptized Christians really lived out that covenant? What is that covenant? Simply put: First, it is a clearly articulated faith in God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Secondly, it is a promise to continue in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of  bread, and in prayer. (Acts 2)

Archbishop Cranmer clearly stated that our right belief (Orthodoxy) will lead to right action (Orthopraxy), when the very next statement in the collect is: "...and boldly confess him [Jesus] as Lord and Savior." It is not enough to simply believe, but we must proclaim to the world the reality of Jesus as Lord and Savior. The world around us is quick to accept Jesus as an historical figure and a great teacher of peace. We affirm that belief, but we must go much further and state that he is God incarnate!

Of course, Archbishop Cranmer also recognized that this task is impossible without the Holy Spirit. In my baptism, even though Fr. Bob nearly forgot to do it, the Holy Spirit did not forget to show up loud and clear. My life changed after receiving the sacrament of baptism. What I had done privately - accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior - was now publicly affirmed. Equally important, the Church also promised to disciple me and support me in my public and private life in Christ! Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the support and discipline of the church, amazing things began to happen. My life has been transformed, as have been the lives of countless others, all because we affirm the biblical truth of Jesus' baptism and ministry, and Jesus' support of our own baptism and ministry!

Let us pray that the Church will take to heart this call to right belief and right action! And to that I say...AMEN!

Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+   

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