Today we celebrate the Feast of The Lord’s Baptism. A reminder of that day when entering the Jordan’s waters, the Lord emerged as the recognised one, the acclaimed ONE and the Son of God.
On last night’s news I watched the scenes on the streets of East Belfast and, like most people, regretted what I was seeing. Lines of Police in Riot Gear, Land Rovers with beacons flashing and sirens blaring and people wound up to the the last. Many had faces and heads covered, lest they be recognisable but even so, it was not difficult to determine most of them were very young – too young to remember the sadness of days gone by and too young to be engulfed in hatred and bigotry. The fight being fought was not theirs, the scenes, though live, were born of hurtful history.
I noticed one man, I assume him to be a young father. He was drinking from a can and in the company of his wife or partner and their young child – possibly a year or so old – who sat in a push chair. In other circumstances, nothing could be more natural or lovely. A young family enjoying an afternoon on the streets of their home town. Alas, the baby was wrapped, not in a blanket or warm clothing, but in a Union Jack. I thought it sad to see the baby, so unaware of geography, wrapped like this. Of course, we have pride in our place – that’s what County Colours and team jerseys are all about but when an emblem is representing something deeper and more painful, it’s a different story. This would be equally the case were the baby wrapped in the Tricolour.
Thinking of the baptismal font, I am reminded of that moment in the ceremony when the newborn baby is wrapped in the “white garment”. It is a moment of recognition that perfection is in our midst. It is, as far as I am aware, a moment common to every Christian Baptism, regardless of denomination, the wording may differ but the intention is the same. Cleansed from what we call “Original Sin”, called into relationship with God and His Church, the baby represents all that is good. We use words along the lines “May you see in this white garment, the outward sign of your Christian dignity and with parents, family and friends to help you by words, prayers and good example, may you bring that dignity, unstained, into Everlasting Life” …. What a moment!
Just then, in the perfection that is this child, there is no hatred, begrudgery, bitterness, mistrust or anything that could be seen as negative. It is a moment of pure acceptance of all that lies before you. Yet, there are few (if any) of us that could hold up a hand today and say “I am still like that” – nobody disliked, blackened or, worse again, hated. Where does it come from? This change of attitude comes, sadly I think, from our situations and our families. We take on the grudges of others and, at times, hand them on. It’s as pitiful and regretful as it is true.
It strikes me that at the core of almost every flag on earth is the “white garment”. The reds and blues, greens and golds, Union Jack, stars and stripes all seem to have the bit of white in common. That baptismal garment is dyed but at its core remains white. That call to holiness is steadfast. That need to be at peace, promote peace, secure peace, create peace is paramount.
I’m not at all sure how it’s done but am convinced it needs doing.