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Pentecost 4

Sunday, 25 June 2023
Janet Spence, Chaplain

When baptised, we live in a place of ‘already and not yet’, we wait and watch, sustained by hope of dawn. We live in the blue hour.

Pentecost 4

The blue hour is a period of twilight before sunrise, or after sunset, when the sun is significantly below the horizon and the sky is mysteriously lit in a deep blue colour, the landscape suffused with bluish light. It lasts only minutes, a liminal time, neither night nor day, when it is often said birds are silent, and the world … waits.

One vivid memory I have of the blue hour was during my year in Corrymeela, a residential centre for reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The resident team held a vigil watch through the night to the Easter dawn, each of us taking turns to ‘watch’.

Knowing the time of sunrise, a few of us gathered on the Antrim coast clifftop with Biggi, from Finland who was to ring the dawn resurrection bell. Waiting in the dark, our peaceful watch became unsettled as a blue hue appeared. Was it dawn? Should she ring? We didn’t know if we were in night or day; and if neither, then what was this time?

Today’s epistle from Romans is a passage of richness and complexity, that explores the rich theology of baptism, and of our beliefs around death, resurrection, eternal life. What does it mean to be baptised ‘into’ Christ and to live waiting and watching for his coming.

Paul writes in verses 3-4:
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. "

An immediate response might be ‘But I’m not dead! I’m alive! And I haven’t died so I can’t be resurrected!’ So what does Paul mean … what is this newness of life?’

Which takes us back to the ‘blue hour’. I think in a sense through the sacrament of baptism we become people who are living in the blue hour: we no longer live in darkness, but nor are we yet living in the place of light, of eternal life.

Martin Luther King Jr wrote that ‘our eternal message of hope is that the dawn will come’. … our eternal message of hope is that the dawn will come …

When baptised, we live in a place of ‘already and not yet’, we wait and watch, sustained by hope of dawn. We live in the blue hour.

In the sacrament of baptism, as water is poured over the candidate’s head, and the ancient words spoken, a transformation happens; the old, enslaved self is no more and we become a ‘new creation’, a new creation which is, in Paul’s words, ‘dead to sin’.

We are still impacted by the temptations of sin - tempted to live lives dominated by concerns and worries about work, financial security; drawn to addictive lifestyles; to lifestyles that satisfy our own greed and impact negatively on the lives of others, and on the sustainability of the planet’s ecosystem.

But baptism is a transformative, regenerative act; through the sacramental work of the Holy Spirit we become free, and this freedom is always present in the deepest me. At baptism the Holy Spirit becomes our life source, a life source continually resonating deep within us. The transformed baptised person … who is the core of my being ... will always contradict anything that might be labelled ‘sin’.

We are called to live as participants in both Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection; lives lived in that moment, between darkness and dawn in the ‘blue hour’ of human earthly life, but always with the hope expressed by Martin Luther King, that the dawn will come.

We all have a sense of our deepest, core selves. Of the ‘best me’. And I believe we always have a sense of when we fall short of that; when we are not our best selves.

Perhaps one of the strongest reprimands is when another person recognises that we haven’t been our best selves, and lets us know by a comment such as ‘that really wasn’t like you’, or ‘I didn’t expect that of you’. When that spoken word rings true within us we feel it very powerfully.

In baptism, we are called to live according to who we truly are, to live resurrected lives, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, at our deepest level; the Holy Spirit calling us to live as the person that God desires us to be, and living in hope of this promised reality expressed in the Baptism liturgy:

Christ before us to guide us,
Christ within us to kindle our vision,
Christ shining from us to give joy to the world.

Even though we may have periods in our lives where we feel distant, or even cut-off from God - times when we are overwhelmed by dark experiences and thoughts, when we fear that we are unforgivable, unlovable - the Baptism rite assures us that we are ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever’.

No matter what, we remain, at our core, our best selves. We will forever be the baptised child of God, the child that God sees and delights in when looking upon us; we are never beyond reach.

I think Malcolm Guite captures this continual living in death and in resurrection in his third poem in the collection ‘After Prayer: A Response to George Herbert’. The poem expresses something of the necessary trust, the letting go, with our focus on Christ, through which we can be reborn with every breath.

God’s breath in man returning to his birth
Breathe in and in that breathing be created,
Wake from the dust, be conscious and inhale
Fresh from the word and light of God, delighted,
You find you have become a living soul.
But soon you must breathe out. What’s to be done?
Who will be with you then? And will you dare
To trust the breath of life back to the one
Who breathed it into you? Christ comes to share
Your letting go; you hear him sigh and say
Father into your hands receive my spirit
And find that he has opened up the way
For you as well. He takes your breath to bear it
Deep into heaven with him in his death,
That you might be reborn with every breath.

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