15th November 2015

St Stephen Lewisham

 

Baptism and Citizenship

 

 

On Thursday I went to Maidstone with others to a Ceremony – which I had never been to before. It was the Certification of Citizenship and Welcoming to the United Kingdom of 25 people – one of whom I knew personally – from other nations, who had gone through the long process of becoming British Subjects.

It was a most impressive event and a very moving one, because these people had waited in some cases up to seven years, in order to achieve it. It took place in what in former times had been the Palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury (which is now the County Registry Office), and was attended by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Kent, representing Her Majesty the Queen, and The Chairman of Kent County Council representing the County in which they will be living.

The ceremony lasted about an hour. Each of them, came forward and stood beneath a large portrait of our Queen, with the Union Jack on one side and the White Horse of Kent on the other, and each New Citizen was presented with their Certificate, and shook hands with her Representative as they received it. Finally, we all sang the National Anthem.

Two things in particular impressed me greatly. The first was their totally serious and solemn attitude – not only those 25 people who were about to become Citizens of the United Kingdom, but also the dignified and reverent behaviour of their families and friends who had come to support them.

The second thing that struck me was the close connection between what we were doing on Thursday in Maidstone, and what we are doing in Lewisham today, namely administering the rite of Holy Baptism to someone to enable her to become, through the Grace of God, a Citizen of His Heavenly Kingdom

Both these Ceremonies entail a life-changing experience. At Maidstone, men and women became something that they had not been before – namely, British Citizens, with all the rights and duties that this involves; and, in the ceremony in which we are shortly to participate, the even more remarkable life-change of making this child “a Member of Christ, the Child of God, and an Inheritor of His Kingdom”.

Because these experiences are Life-changing, each of them demands three things of those taking part:

1.     to treat such an experience with the utmost seriousness – as we did, one and all, at Maidstone;

2.     to make openly, irrevocable and life-long promises of loyalty – to their adopted Nation in the first case, and to their adopting Heavenly Father in the latter;

3.     for all the citizens of Kent, from Her Majesty – who is the Queen of Kent no less than Queen of the rest of her Kingdom and who was represented yesterday by her Deputy Lord Lieutenant  – to take responsibility from now onwards, for these new fellow-citizens of the United Kingdom for the rest of their lives….  in the same way that this child – who, like you and me, has been made (through the Sacrament of Baptism), a Member of Christ and the Child of God and an Inheritor of God’s Kingdom, will now become our responsibility, yours and mine!

None of this is going to be easy for us (or for them!). But God’s will doesn’t depend on whether we like or dislike doing what He tells us to do, or the people we have to do it with, or whether it’s easy or hard to do.  

In Baptism, this Child of God needs help from those who belong to the Family of God (that’s you and I) to continue Christ’s faithful Soldier and Servant to her life’s end, signed with the Sign of the Cross like we were and taught, like us, to  “fight against the World the Flesh and the Devil”.

That is the solemn declaration on her behalf which her parents and godparents will be making, and we shall be re-affirming for ourselves, in a few minutes’ time; but unlike our Citizenship of the United Kingdom (which only lasts till the end of our earthly lives) our Citizenship of God’s Kingdom lasts for all eternity!

So let’s be serious about it!

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