Home again and thankful for my birthday this last week, thankful for another year on this good earth, and thankful for another opportunity to worship God in the beauty of holiness at Saint Peter’s Anglican Church.
Over the last month, as I traveled to the sites of Mary Magdalene in Provence and journeyed to that first century I sensed time encapsulating. For her Lord is mine, the same then as today. Her presence was everywhere I visited – the dripping cave in the massif of limestone, the Gothic basilica that honored her relics in the luminous crypt, even the ancient Abbey of Saint Victor in Marseilles. I began to notice other country churches that had been founded by monks from fifth-century Saint Victor’s, so that soon I could see Cassianite churches dotting old Provence, their place-names remaining to remind. And then, the Benedictines of the Abbey of Saint Mary Magdalene in Barroux at the foot of Mount Ventoux, brought me full circle to the present as I gazed upon these young ascetic faces, their black robes dusting the stone floors of the Romanesque nave, singing Latin praises. God is good, I thought. He remains active in our world, weaving an exquisitely beautiful tapestry of the faithful, each person unique, each love different, each talent adding to the drama of redemption.
From that first century, when Mary Magdalene and the many others preached to the decadent Roman world, to the present day, as faithful witnesses proclaim God’s immense love to our straying culture, the years seem but a blink of an eye, yet each second contains life and death, holds eternity within it.
A mystery. And this morning as I gazed upon the thirteenth-century crucifix rising over the green tented tabernacle at Saint Peter’s, I watched and waited for the mysterious miracle, the coming of Christ into our midst in the bread and the wine.
It was a morning of miracles it seemed, for we were blessed with a baptism. The crucifer and torchbearers processed with our priest down the central aisle to the font near the entrance, and we turned, bowing, as the crucifix passed. Soon we were looking back to the choir loft over the doors and above that the massive red stained glass window portraying the fire of the Holy Spirit. The glass is brilliant in its crimsons and oranges and pinks, a happy rain of color upon us below, and today the prisms shimmered with light as we gathered around the stone baptismal font.
I listened to the familiar words of the ancient rite, somehow new each time, and glanced at the fiery windows, thinking of the descent of the Holy Ghost: “None can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of Water and of the Holy Ghost… received into Christ’s holy Church and be made a living member of the same… an heir of everlasting salvation… to give him the kingdom of heaven, and everlasting life.” Our priest poured the sanctified water over the young man’s head and with this action, baptized him “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” With this pouring, sin dies in Christ’s own death, and the newly baptized rises from the waters a new creature, part of Christ.
I love the words used to present the newly baptized to us, his new family-in-God: “We receive this person into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do sign him with the sign of the Cross in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”
Mary Magdalene was not ashamed. She carried the Sign of the Cross on her heart as she fought under Christ’s banner, against sin, the world, and the devil, a faithful servant. Today is no different, I reflected. Courage is needed to make one’s way in the dripping dark with the light of a candle. Courage is needed to be not ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified to an unbelieving world. But He gives us that courage, he rains it upon us.
We received God this morning in the bread and in the wine, as body and blood entered our bodies and souls. We were washed clean. We received the crucified one so that we could rise with Him.
Even now, the stained glass rains upon my senses, the brilliant reds, the shimmering prisms. The Holy Ghost showering upon us, world without end.
All quotes from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer