Listen to the sermon here.
I was baptized when I was just shy of my fifth birthday, in 1966, in the little Methodist Church that used to be in Wallace, up the road from Avoca. Of course, I don’t remember it, and no one ever talked about while I was growing up, and my family didn’t go to church.
Then something happened to me when I was eleven years old. My grandmother died, someone I absolutely adored. She died young at the age of 49 at the end of a terrible two years of battling cancer.
I was a confused and angry young man. I was told that she was now in heaven with God, which was a better place for her to be. But I had no frame of reference to process those statements, and they only made me more confused and more angry. Whoever God was, he seemed completely selfish, and how could it be possible that there was any better place for my grandmother except by my side.
And she was no longer by my side. She was gone.
For many years I carried this hurt and anger in me. When I was sixteen, my great Aunt Ann asked me to come to church with her—here to St. Thomas’.
I did not have an immediate revelation that made everything all better again. But over time I began to discover a different possibility in relation to that great loss in my life.
That discovery was the possibility that the living and the dead are still in relationship with one another. That death is not the last word on life. That even though in this life I might always mourn the death of my grandmother—and I still do—I can also celebrate the mystery that we are still together.
That mystery is what we mean by “the communion of saints.”
We have to call it a mystery because it is not intellectually provable. But we are not dismissive or afraid of mystery. In the realm of mystery lies the faith and hope and love through which we see the world and try to live in it. In the realm of mystery lies our capacity to choose not to live in fear or resentment or anger, all of which are agents of the power of death.
We choose life, and it is this choice, this life, a life driven by faith, hope and love, into which we are baptizing these children this morning.
We say some radical things this morning in this realm of mystery and life. We say that the bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble, that these children are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.
We do this not knowing what life is going to be like for these children. Of course we hope and pray for the best, but we know they will know tragedy. We know they will know trial. We know they will fall short of everything God wants them to be.
We know these things. But we believe, as Paul says in Romans, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. There is no asterisk at the end of the sentence that they are Christ’s own for ever. There is no asterisk that leads us to some fine print that says, “unless they screw up.”
You see, the saints are not people who always do what is right. The saints are the people whom God loves, because God chooses to love them, in spite of anything.
The hard part is that we are called to love just like God does. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, to expect to find God in them, and to always treat them with dignity because the God of love is also the God of peace and justice.
The good news we proclaim today in our celebration of the communion of saints and in these baptisms is that faith is stronger than fear, hope is stronger than despair, and love is stronger than death.
And life always has the last word.