Homecoming: A Renewal of Identity
The Second Sunday of Easter
St. James-Santee Episcopal Church, McClellanville
(Annual service at the Brick Church at Wambaw)
April 12, 2015
I John 1:1-2:2
Thank you for including Annie and me in the festivities today. We have heard about this occasion – this homecoming – for several years, and so, we really have looked forward to our visit. It is good to be here with you today.
In recognition of today’s celebration, let’s envision first what the act of homecoming means. A time of coming home has an appeal to it which is powerful and, almost, tangible. Involved is the joy of reconnecting – reconnecting with people, with places, and with events of importance in our past.
On an occasion such as this one, we might remember some familiar motherly advice to a son or daughter upon leaving home. Perhaps like me you have been the object of this admonition. “Remember who you are, and remember where you come from!” Tied up in those words is an assertion about identity. That really is the point, is it not? The motherly advice is all about identity. “Remember who you are, and remember where you come from.” Homecoming involves that very same theme – the matter of identity.
Another focus of our attention this morning is baptism. We are blessed to be involved in that sacrament today on behalf of Hank Craven, along with parents and other sponsors. And, once again, in baptism we encounter the theme of identity.
In the liturgy today, parents and godparents help form the identity of this child. They will specify certain actions that they renounce and others which they affirm, on Hank’s account. To renounce certain things and to affirm others helps form and shape the identify of the baptized one. After this, together we all will acknowledge and accept the Baptismal Covenant, which is our understanding of the agreement between God and the community of the baptized – all of us. Next, we will offer prayers for Hank. And, then the child is named as he is baptized.
Baptism, you see, is indeed the sacrament of identity. In today’s liturgy, therefore, we say to Hank, “Remember who you are, and remember where you come from.”
Today’s Bible readings offer perspectives on the theme of identity as well. For instance, the Psalm reminds us of God’s care for the faithful. These faithful ones may include orphans, widows, and other solitary people. However, God provides for them, and they discover their identity as they experience God’s gracious provision. As the Psalmist offers words of thanksgiving to God for the land, he makes clear the particularity of the people themselves. Thus, he writes to God of the land, “Your people found their home in it; in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor” (68:10). These people are special to God, and their identity is known and blessed by God.
Then, in today’s reading from First John, we hear encouragement to “walk in the light as (Jesus) himself is in the light” (1:7). You see, the followers of Jesus are those who walk in the light. In part, that defines our identity. To “walk in the light” involves telling the truth, being clear about who we are, and claiming what we believe in, as followers of Jesus Christ. All of those traits point to the matter of our identity, for we walk in the light of Christ.
Today’s Gospel reading includes familiar words of our risen Lord, spoken to his frightened band of followers. Jesus appeared to his disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21). Next, we read, “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22). As a matter essential to identity, then, followers of Jesus are ones who have received the Holy Spirit. Thus, we who claim to follow Christ have received his Spirit and are therefore blessed by gifts which come from God. We know the source of those gifts, and we are grateful to God for them.
I want to add here that this reading is especially appropriate on this day. We understand that baptism is a special time that the Holy Spirit is sent by God. Indeed, we will soon mark Hank’s forehead with a sign of the cross, and we will affirm, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever” (BCP, p308). Baptism, therefore, is essential to Hank’s identity.
In summary, then, I suggest to you that an important way to understand what we do today involves the theme of identity. We come home to a place and a group of people that represent who we are. We return, in part, to rediscover our identity. We baptize a new member of the Body of Christ – identified henceforth by the cross on his forehead, “marked as Christ’s own for ever.” After our gathering concludes, we will go our separate ways, renewed by this affirmation of our identity, remembering who we are and where we come from. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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