In a few days, Christians will be gathering to celebrate the great paschal mystery in the “Great Three Days,” climaxing at the Great Vigil where Easter is proclaimed. Baptisms will be celebrated after the long journey of preparation, the great threshold into the life of ongoing conversion in Christ. Whether we are blessed with baptisms or not, Christians will be renewing their baptismal covenant. Of course, we renew our baptismal covenant every time we participate in the Eucharist, for that is what the Eucharist is – living into our Baptism, yielding to the gift of our personhood, which is found only in communion with God within whom we become “participants of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). But there is a specificity in actually renewing our vows, gathered at the font at the Vigil, along with those being received into the Body that feed and help us reshape our ongoing conversion.
In a recent discussion with the Chair of Liturgy Canada and Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission council member, the Reverend John Hill, he explained:
According to the Catechism (BCP 551) the two things required of persons to be baptized are repentance and faith. The rite of Baptism includes a profession of faith, but according to the popular understanding of repentance, we might have expected that the rite would also include a general confession of sin. Instead, it includes the renunciations (BAS 154) which are concerned with the breaking of power relationships. The dominant metaphor in baptism, therefore, is not guilt/forgiveness but captivity/liberation.
Being by nature Pelagians, we prefer to think that our salvation depends on what we do, including our sincere remorse and our resolve to stop making mistakes. But our encounter with Jesus reveals to us that this approach is hopeless.
Transformation, resurrection is always a matter of grace. God offers, and we accept. It is the accepting, however, that is so difficult for us as we are seduced by so many other masters. Power, affirmation, control, group allegiance, and even our own religion can become idols that eclipse the true sun. It is up to us to work at identifying what or whom we have allowed to become Lord, and to renounce them. John cites the dictionary meaning of renounce: as
- to consent formally to abandon; surrender; give up (a claim, right, possession, etc.)
- repudiate; refuse to recognize any longer (renouncing their father’s authority)
- a) decline further association or disclaim relationship with (renounced my former friends); b) withdraw from; discontinue; forsake…
I have been fascinated by the simple ritual act of declaring one’s renunciation while facing the west (direction of the setting of the sun, ending of the old day) and then turning to the east to follow the way of Christ (direction of the rising sun, beginning of the new day). Turning one’s back on an old master is an act of fearlessly entering the service of a new master. Without the protection and empowerment of the new master, this would be a frightening and futile thing to do.”
It’s easy to see this narrative in the sojourn of Israel in the Sinai, who have abandoned the comforts of slavery and now thirst and hunger in the desert. Even after their miraculous escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, they berate Moses: “is God with us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7). Trust and faith in the new master is a necessary part of leaving one shore for the next.
John concludes, “The illusion of freedom is one of the tricks of the old master who seduces us into staying under his authority. Our current political maelstrom may be a telling sign of the deeper reality.”
Two resources available to the Church unpacking his thoughts are Making Disciples: Serving those who are entering the Christian life, and Becoming the Story We Tell: Renewing our engagement with Christ Crucified and Risen.
In Making Disciples, we explore the notion that the threshold of Baptism is “about a personal change, dying to a former way of life and rising up to a new life in union with God, giving over one’s life in trust and receiving God’s gift of love.” We are to ask, will baptism celebrate an actual conversion? Is the new convert truly prepared to renounce all other claims upon their life and be open and vulnerable to God? In exploring this question John writes:
This issue is raised in the ritual itself: it is expressed in the act of submission to the waters of God’s judgement, baptism into Christ’s death, the bath that washes away the failures and the fears and the obligations to all the idols and false gods; it is expressed in being raised up to a new life in solidarity with those who love to do God’s will, to new relationships celebrated around the Lord’s Table; it is expressed in anointing, illumining, vesting, greeting, and installing within the assembly. The ritual is a lavish celebration of self-giving and of the bestowal of gifts.
He notes that this sentiment is explicitly present in the act of renunciation and adherence: Do you renounce evil? Do you turn to Christ? He suggests that:
this question, too, is in peril of being misunderstood: it is not a question of giving assent to moralistic views, or even to a particular mythology of evil; it is a question of breaking free from all enslavements, and finding the freedom God gives in Christ. Can the break with old ways be made? Can the escape from sin and death be accomplished? If such a thing were possible, it would be by God’s power and gift alone.
Lent for all of us, we read, “is a time for ‘biographical reconstruction’, in which you come to know your own narcissistic story as a story of God’s saving power at work, a story of ongoing conversion.” In the weekly gatherings through Lent, following the order suggested in Becoming the Story we Tell, we engage with the weekly Sunday lectionary and the deep drama in the Sunday Gospels. We read the text three times and after each reading, together, we listen and ask ourselves consecutively:
- What did you hear Jesus offering? to you? to us? to the world?
- What kind of resistance to Jesus did you hear?
- Listen for human responses to Jesus with which you can identify personally. What will you have to learn to risk or to renounce in order to accept what Jesus is offering?
The focus of this Lenten reflection prepares us for the Passover when we will be called to renounce evil. “We prepare for that moment by learning to recognize the patterns of our own resistance to God’s gracious will.” We cannot renounce that which we have not named—what are the idols, the occupiers, the Lords we have cultivated personally and as a community. It is these that are to be renounced, and so we have engage with these questions deliberately and thoughtfully as we journey through these forty days.
Are you ready to renounce your pharoahs and name your true Lord?