Recently I was invited to attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Gastonia, NC. It was a new experience for me. I’ve been to several different denominations, but I had never been to an Episcopal church before. It was a visit I won’t soon forget.
Some things were familiar from personal experience. I learned the Nicene Creed in the Methodist church of my early childhood. The responses to the readings of Scripture were the same ones I learned listening to Cardinal Dolan’s mass on Catholic radio. The candelabras had seven tapers, common symbolism in Christian churches.
Other things were familiar only by proxy. I knew of the Presence Lamp only from reading my favorite fiction author, Katherine Kurtz. Likewise, only through my reading did I recognize the Cantor bowing respect to the High Altar.
Some things, like the Collects, were completely foreign to me. And yet they were comforting, like finding a pair of jeans that fit so well they don’t even need breaking in. The priest, Father Shawn, also fit this description. When I went in to worship, he was an unknown quantity. After one homily, he has earned my respect.
But what really blew me away was the centerpiece behind the High Altar. It was a large embossed bronze plaque containing the account from Matthew’s gospel of the baptism of Jesus.
Matthew 3:16-17 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Most Christians, including myself, have seen this passage many times. But this time, it took on an entirely new meaning for me.
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Another very familiar scripture. But in an instant, sitting at the far edge of a pew in the back of St. Mark’s, the two passages merged and took on a new meaning for me. I had to cover my mouth to stifle a gasp as the full import registered.
You see, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God fell on him and a voice came from heaven saying “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” And when we repent and are baptized today, the Spirit of God falls on us as well, saying “This is my beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased.” It won’t be a visible dove nor an audible voice, but it’s still real. It’s a spiritual event.
Family. We are born into the Family of God. A new identity as a child of the King. And he is well pleased. Another affirmation, hidden in Holy Scripture, that God really does love us.
Peace be with you.