The crowds gathered. Will there be enough seats? Will there be enough service sheets? Can everyone see? These are some of the questions around when we host our monthly baptism service at 12 noon. Hundreds of people come, a moment to celebrate, except that if I’m honest they’re hard work.
Its hard keeping that many people engaged and trying to be serious alongside the celebration.
Consequently, I can often go home disheartened and drained in a way it feels as though the sacrament is being abused. And yet there is more, as an email I received last week reminded me.
Prior to last month’s service, an enthusiastic photographer spoke to me before the service asking for some guidance about what was and was not appropriate. We had a chat and I asked if he could email me some of the photos because they would be useful to us for publicity and so on.
I’d forgotten about the request until an email came with some photos attached, one of which is one of my favourite ever photos. In the foreground I’m holding the Riley-James. In the background is a row of smiling joyful faces, beaming at the child and maybe even me.
That photo has served as a little reminder to me that though I might sometimes feel a bit indifferent about baptisms, God’s grace is still at work and that that grace will be revealed to us in all sorts of people and events.
It’s a photo I shall treasure for the rest of my days and is certainly one to turn too if I feel a bit grumpy and thinking it’s a waste of time.
Perhaps Jesus needed moments like that too. We might like to think of Jesus being meek and mild, all calm and collected but the reality I suspect was rather different. It must have been frustrating to be surrounded by followers who for much of the time just don’t get it.
He speaks of love and forgiveness, of the kingdom of God and they seem to get stuck on triviality and detail. For me the Gospel this morning has beauty and vision but also an underlying frustration.
It’s a dialogue between father and son on which we eavesdrop, the son speaks of his hope for his followers ‘that they may all be one.’ It is a grand vision but how often was his vision for what might be, tempered by what was before him.
The same is true of us, indeed one of the challenges of ministry and life in general is to hold that tension between big hopes and plans with the day to day experience of life.
As a church we have a vision for our future together, it’s being shaped and remade as we journey on but that vision is made real day by day, as we seek to follow Jesus.
On Ascension Day last Thursday Stephen and Danielle were married here. The ideal of marriage is a lofty one, a grand vision of love yet it’s made real day by day, by thousands of little choices for love.
I might wish that those who come to us for baptism would join us Sunday by Sunday and truly have a sense of how through that sacrament we die and rise with Christ and maybe they did, just not in the way I expect.
That picture seemed to me a reminder that God’s grace isn’t bound to the rules of our making and that perhaps I need to relax and rejoice more in the little things, those precious little moments of grace captured in that photograph depicting God’s beloved children gathered here, smiling and laughing.
My instruction to the craftsman who made this stand for the Book of Gospels was to design and build something that would both cradle the book and make it visible to all and yet also emphasise how precious the words on the page are to us.
Each week we get a little bit. A snippet from Jesus’ life which we ponder and reflect upon. These little excerpts are precious indeed. Moments of grace through which, we are challenged and disturbed, encouraged and are made new.
It was a relatively new life I held in my arms a few weeks ago. He was and is precious to those who love him.
The big plan is to raise their child so that he might fulfil his potential, that happens day by day through their love, care and guidance and though there will be frustrations there will also be moments of grace, wonder and joy.
Jesus invites us to be one. The big vision, however for us living that unity happens day by day.
It can be hard work especially when things don’t seem to be going as well as we might wish, but even then come those little moments of grace.
We find those moments in the Gospels, that’s why we shall leave the book open in its new stand but in other places too.
For me that photograph is one. Depicting as it does a moment in time to cherish, a reminder to me that I should resist being grumpy when things aren’t always what I might hope for, because regardless of me and my little world, as St. Paul rightly says Grace abounds!(1)