The Baptism of Christ
Homily of Augustine on Psalm XCVII
Home -- Second Sunday after Epiphany
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Archbishop Cranmer translated this from Latin. Originally a prayer for outward peace.
In the Early Church, the birth of Christ, the Magi visit, and Baptism were all celebrated on the 6th. The Protestant Episcopal Church moved the baptism Gospel to the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, to remember this event during Epiphanytide and so we have it today. The Lutheran Church remembers the Baptism on Third Sunday after Christmas. The Latin Church remembers it on the First Sunday after Epiphany. The Orthodox Church continues to celebrate the Baptism on the Theophany, 6 January, with the visit of the Magi. Theophany literally means "Manifestation of God".
This Sunday in the American 1928 Prayer Book the Holy Baptism of our Lord is remembered as part of the Epiphany Season. This remembrance is anciently observed by the Orthodox church on the Epiphany of 6 January. Baptism, and membership in the Body of Christ, has become a issue as some heretofore orthodox churches begin to ignore its importance and meaning. In one recent service in an Episcopal Church the baptismal vows were changed to remove reverences to a one belief and salvation in Christ,to which an atheist godfather vowed to guide the child. In other instances the ancient custom of requiring baptism before communion has be tossed aside, again by those who claim a catholic base. These trends are troublesome to any orthodox Christian who recognizes Baptism and Communion as the two key sacraments for the Christian community: those ordained by our Lord. They are even more so to one who ascribes to the early Church Fathers traditions.
Let us turn now to one of the appointed psalms, 97, and hear what good Bishop Augustine had to say as he touches on the matter of baptism,
What did Sion hear? That all His Angels worship Him....For the Church was not as yet among the Gentiles; in Judaea the Jews had some of them believed, and the very Jews who believed thought that they only belonged to Christ: the Apostles were sent to the Gentiles, Cornelius was preached to; Cornelius believed, was baptized, and they who were with Cornelius were also baptized. But ye know what happened, that they might be baptized: the reader indeed hath not reached this point, but, nevertheless, some recollect; and let those who do not recollect, hear briefly from me. The Angel was sent to Cornelius: the Angel sent Cornelius to Peter; Peter came to Cornelius. And because Cornelius and his household were Gentiles, and uncircumcised: lest they might hesitate to give the Gospel to the uncircumcised: before Cornelius and his household were baptized, the Holy Spirit came, and filled them, and they began to speak with tongues. Now the Holy Spirit had not fallen upon any one who had not been baptized: but upon these It fell before baptism. For Peter might hesitate whether he might baptize the uncircumcised: the Holy Spirit came, they began to speak with tongues; the invisible gift was given, and took away all doubt about the visible Sacrament; they were all baptized....What did Sion hear, and rejoice at? That the Gentiles also had received the word of God. One wall had come, but the corner existed not as yet. The name Sion is here peculiarly given to the Church which was in Judaea. "Sion heard of it, and rejoiced: and the daughters of Judah were glad." Thus it is written, "The apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard." See if the daughters of Judaea rejoiced not. What did they hear? "That the Gentiles had also received the word of God."...Therefore, "The daughters of Judah rejoiced because of Thy judgments, O Lord." What is, because of Thy judgments? Because in any nation, and in any people, he that serveth Him is accepted of Him: for He is not the God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.
Augustine rightly recognizes the great importance of baptism as he recounts the story of Centurion Cornelius, and how God had sent his Holy Spirit upon the Cornelius household as a sign to Peter and his fellows. Based upon this sacrament of Baptism, these Gentiles were accepted into the physical, visible, body of Christ, which is the Church and into full fellowship with the disciples. Based on the will and sovereignty of God, they were chosen and baptized in the Spirit.
Let us not follow the folly of those who cast aside the traditions and symbols of our faith for the sake of some imagined "inclusion". Let us stand firmly grounded in our appreciation for the great work God is doing in the elect according to his unfathomable will. Let us stand in awe of his continuing work in the Church through these great sacraments and approach them with rejoicing and reverent fear instead of indifference and apathy--or worse. Finally, let us proclaim the Gospel to all, and receive all faithful called by God into the fellowship of the Church according to the ancient sacraments.
Historical note: Augustine says "The reader has not yet reached this point". In the church of the age and place of Augustine, lectio coninua was the rule for daily readings in the church. I take from this, that the reader is the office of the lesser ministers who were appointed to read from the Epistles. They were known as Epistlers in some churches and subdeacons today (which we have at least one in the Order) The Deacon read the Gospel, and the cantor led the singing of psalms. Other readers would read from the OT Law and Prophets.
Released by Primus Pilus
Legio Christi-Ecclesia Militans
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" [St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans 14:19]
* ORDO CENTURIONUM * IN HOC SIGNO VINCES * TIME DEUM ET OPERARE IUSTITIAM