The Precentor - Revd Canon Gilly Myers
Isaiah 55.1-11; Romans 6.1-11
This morning Southwark Cathedral and St Magnus the martyr met at the centre of London Bridge for our annual service to Bless the River Thames.
Water, of course, is a powerful symbol in expressing physical and spiritual aspects of human experience. The waters of the Thames have hugely influenced the history of this great city. Today we also celebrate the Baptism of Christ – and we know that the waters of baptism have changed us and greatly influenced our own lives and personal stories.
In our readings this afternoon, then, it is not surprising to find that the opening verse of our first reading from Isaiah is about water. ‘Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…’. You can just imagine a busy crowded area, where a voice calls out to the passers-by to come and see what they have to offer.
Indeed, it is also reminiscent of Jesus’ offer of living water which quenches thirst in such as extraordinary way that the one has drunk it would never be thirsty again. The water that Jesus can give, becomes in the one who has drunk of it, ‘a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’.
Thirsting for spiritual fulfilment is a very human experience. People may thirst without necessarily knowing where to turn - but here – from the mouth of God - is the offer of thirst-quenching, satisfying, life-giving, refreshing water, that meets that longing thirst for good.
Birth and cleansing
Paul’s writing in Romans also speaks of water – this time in the context of baptism.
We are buried with Jesus into death by baptism, just as we are re-born to walk in newness of life with Christ, who was raised from the dead by the Father.
In other New Testament epistles, baptism is described as a washing away of sins… the washing away of sins in the waters of the font or lake or river or swimming pool… or whichever waters in which we were baptised. It is a cleansing from all that contaminated us from our habits, thoughts, words and actions that were contrary to the love and purposes of God.
Cleansing rituals, whether ceremonial, public or personal are also a feature of human life. There are some days when I just long for a long, warm soak in a sudsy bubble bath, followed by an hour or so relaxing with a good book.
Actually, though, I don’t think that the washing of baptism is anything like that long hot bath. In contrast, it is rather more like a cold, invigorating shower to wake me up in the morning so that I am alert and ready to go. We are baptised into new life that is dynamic, vibrant and active; we are baptised into mission and discipleship; we are baptised into new life; a new life that is also described as: a walk with Jesus.
As it happens, those blessing the river were sharing the bridge today with dozens of determined walkers: some with pairs of serious walking sticks; each adorned with a number; all wearing matching woolly hats! Taking a walk with Jesus in newness of life, might be similarly purposeful and energetic.
This newness of life described by Paul means different things to each of us – as the Spirit bestows an abundance of grace and varieties of gifts amongst us. Between us all, God calls us to a host of different ministries and callings; and what a wonderful thing that is.
Don’t get me wrong about the long, hot soak. I think that there is definitely a spiritual equivalent for which each of us should allow space in our lives - but that thought is for another day.
This afternoon, I would like to encourage us all to recall our baptism and, in doing so, recommit ourselves to the mission and discipleship that we were baptised: so that we may continue to walk ‘in newness of life’ with Christ, who will guide us and accompany us on every step of the way.
Let us pray
God our Father,
we thank you that through baptism
you have brought us into newness of life with Christ.
Keep us faithful to our baptism,
dwell in our hearts by faith,
root us and ground us in love
and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.