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Acts 2:1-2; Psalm 104:25-35, 37;

Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The Rev. Cameron Partridge

May 19, 2024

Good Morning, St. Aidan’s, and Happy Pentecost!

One of my earliest memories of church is of my baptism. If I’m not mistaken, it was Eastertide of 1979. I was five. My sister was a baby, having been born the previous January. It was either a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. We had gathered at the front of the church – my paternal and maternal grandparents and perhaps a few others, along with my parents. I was asked to come forward and stand by the font. The priest said some words I don’t recall noting, and he poured water over my head. I had been prepared for this oddity — I remember knowing to expect it, yet also feeling the whole thing was definitely strange. I’m fairly certain my sister was baptized next —a strategic ordering, given the unpredictable reaction of babies to water being poured over their heads. I don’t believe the service lasted much longer. No communion. Soon home to my parents’ house for brunch. Perhaps the priest came – I recall that he was kind, charismatic, and had a distinctive Australian accent. I got to know him a bit more in the years after, as my family attended the parish more regularly. But this momentous event – the most significant of my life as a Christian, in fact – did not take place among the people of that community. This was a private Christening, not at all uncommon among Christians, including Episcopalians, in the era before our current Book of Common Prayer was in wide use. Yet a significant aspect of this moment’s meaning is embodied in its communal quality. When we gather as Christians to welcome another human being, made in God’s image, into the depths of sacramental transformation and belonging, as we will at the 10 AM service today, this is an action to which we need to bear witness together. This is a moment that invites us into a wider and deeper belonging, a belonging in which we are immersed in and transformed by the fundamental Mystery of our faith.

We renew our baptismal covenants at several points during the Church year, including today on this Feast of Pentecost. When we renew that covenant, we often emphasize the five questions following the Baptismal or Apostle’s Creed, particularly the last one about striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.  This emphasis is not misplaced! These questions call attention to how we live out our baptismal identity in the world, not simply in our own individual lives. Yet this emphasis on action stems from what baptism actually is, how it connects and transforms us, changing us forever.

One of the most powerful teachers on the meaning of baptism was the Apostle Paul. I took a course on Paul’s letters as a religion major in college and I remember writing a paper – I think more than one, actually! – on the startling language Paul uses to describe baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Paul asks with characteristic intensity in the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans (prior to our passage today). “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). In baptism we are joined to the profound mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are baptized “into his death,” even “buried with him” in the watery chaos of “vulnerability and unprotectedness”[1]—which was why immersion, preferably in living, flowing water, was the earliest way Christians carried out baptism. (The polar opposite of my private, practically sanitized five-year-old experience.)

But burial with Christ in the water was only the beginning, the first part of the mystery. The second part is unabashedly glorious: we are buried with Christ in baptism “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead” by divine glory, we too “might walk in newness of life.” Resurrection is an event beyond our comprehension promised to us as a final renewal at the completion of all creation. But resurrection is not simply something we wait for beyond the horizon of our mortality. It infuses our life here and now. We are meant to live, move, and have our being in that newness of life. How? Because baptism, as the “Sacrament of new birth” changes us. When we are buried with Christ, something in us dies. Something in us is washed away. Something new lives and begins to emerge and grow in us. We are not just refreshed, like a day at the spa. But fundamentally renewed. Paul, and our living tradition after him, speaks of this transformation with language of “the old human” (anthropos) and “the new human.”[2]  The old human was hemmed in by death. The new human has, as our prayer book baptismal language puts it, “a share in” Christ’s risen life, “the new life of grace.” [3]

But this pattern in all its beauty is not simply an individual phenomenon. It is collective. When we are buried with Christ, we are joining what Paul called in multiple letters, “the body of Christ.” That body, marked by death and resurrection, is not an description of Jesus as an individual. It a shared collective identity. This means that the sacramental joining of baptism is not simply of each of us to Christ as individuals, but of each of us to one another. We are bound to one another far beyond the visible community gathered on any given Sunday. That connection spans the earth. It unites us, living and departed. The collective body of Christ into which baptism immerses us crosses all manner of difference, strengthening us to live the new life of grace together.

Activating that resurrecting grace in and through our multiplicity is a particular gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who sanctifies baptismal waters, the Spirit who midwives rebirth. And, of course, it is the Spirit whose descent upon the disciples we celebrate on this Feast of Pentecost. I’ve recently been reading a new book called A Faith of Many Rooms: Inhabiting a More Spacious Christianity, by Debie Thomas, a Bay Area spiritual writer and member of our diocese. In it, she writes about how at Pentecost, “God gives the early believers a clear and startling picture of what Christ’s body on earth should look like. God reveals a vision and a dream for the church ­– a dream of many stories, many tellings, many rooms.”[4] When the Holy Spirit fills the room where the disciples were sitting, as we heard in our passage from the Acts of the Apostles, it rests on the heads of the disciples in the form of tongues of flame. The Spirit fills and literally in-spires them, enabling them to breathe out God’s Good News – God’s transformative power – in languages they could not previously speak. Their cacophony drew interested observers. All were astounded at their ability to understand people who had always seemed incomprehensible. “Christians sometimes speak of Pentecost as the reversal of the tower of Babel, the Genesis story in which God divides and scatters human communities by multiplying their languages” Thomas writes.

But in fact, Pentecost doesn’t reverse Babel; it perfects and blesses it. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, She doesn’t restore humanity to common language and a single story; the Spirit declares all languages holy and equally worthy of God’s stories. The Spirit weaves diversity, multivocality, and inclusiveness into the very fabric of the church.[5]


This Spirit-breathed multivocality is the collective body of Christ into which we are baptized. Baptism glories in incorporating ever more stories, perspectives, languages, lived realities into the heart-beat of Christ’s body: “God essentially says, ‘This Spirit-drenched place, this fledgling church, this new body of Christ, is yours. You don’t have to feel like outsiders here; we speak your language, too. Come in, come in and feel at home.” Today, at the 10 AM, just after I pour the waters of baptism over him, we will say to Young: “We receive you into the household of God.” In other words, as Thomas declared, “feel at home.” Truly, this new body of Christ is yours.” It will be his just as it is each of ours, this wildly joyous, beautiful, chaotic, rich, varied body. We belong to it.

We belong to one another.

We belong to those who have gone before us, like Mary Readé whose life we celebrated last weekend. We belong to those we have welcomed for contextual education or field placements over the years (since I have been here): Mia Kano, Nan Slavin, Susan Stanton, Scot Sherman, Amy Newell-Large, Lisa da Silva, and Weston Morris whose official time as our seminarian draws to a close today.

Thanks be to God for knitting us together in the Body of Christ. For filling that body with the Holy Spirit who groans with and for us when we have no words, who breathes new life into us when we are faint, who seals us and marks us as Christ’s own for ever. Thanks be to God for the birth of this beautiful, multivocal, unruly body we call the Church, whose birth we celebrate today.

[1] Rowan Williams: “Jesus has to come down fully to our level, where things are shapeless and meaningless, in a state of vulnerability and unprotectedness, if real humanity is to come to birth.” In Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 2014), 4.

[2] E.g. Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:24

[3] The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 306, 308.

[4] Debie Thomas, A Faith of Many Rooms: Inhabiting a More Spacious Christianity (Minneapolis; Broadleaf Books, 2024), 76.

[5] Thomas, 76

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