This Sunday, the Bishop will be at Saint John’s for his annual visitation. It’s a time for celebration and renewal. Seven people will be confirmed--Natalie, Daniel, Uriel, Michaela, Noah, Claudia, and Drew--and one person, Marjorie, will reaffirm her baptismal vows. At both services, the congregation will be invited to renew our own baptismal covenants.
I’ve been thinking about renewal and covenants and birthdays. What does it mean to renew a covenant? Why do we bother with this spiritual practice? And why do we celebrate birthdays?
On Friday, I will turn 44. I like to reflect on my life around the time of my birthday. I think about celebrations, some failures, and how I’d like to live my life differently in the next year. My thoughts also drift to my parents in thanksgiving – how they have influenced and shaped my life. And, since I have become a parent, on my birthday I allow myself to become more aware of how children influence the lives of their parents. In many ways, birthdays represent renewal of life, a bit, perhaps, like the first blossoms of a perennial that has been dormant for a while.
When is your birthday with Christ? When did you covenant yourself to Jesus? For many of us, as infants we entered into a covenant with Christ at our baptism. Later on confirmation was a recognition of our life in Christ, in his Church, and our commitment (covenant) to serve him in the world. My life was permanently changed by my confirmation. On that day I heard Christ calling me to holy orders, the first of many times I’ve heard his call. While this was not an experience that happens to most people, many who are ordained heard the call when they were confirmed. There was a down side: the longer I stayed, or strayed, away from God’s call, the more difficult it became for me to renew my baptismal covenant.
This Sunday, we are called to celebrate our birthdays with Christ, a second birth as many call it, when we were born from above with God through Jesus. We will celebrate with our confirmands as they commit to Christ and his Church as we also remember and renew our covenants.
Our covenant to God involves believing in him and, with His help, continuing in the fellowship, teaching, and breaking the bread, a tradition handed down to us by the Apostles. With God’s help, when we sin, we will repent and return to the Lord. With God’s help we will show God’s love by our words and actions, love our neighbors, strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being.
But I’d like to add one more remembrance to our list, just between you and me. Let us remember that we are only able to live in covenant with God through Christ because God loved us first. God knit us together gently in the womb, the Holy Spirit knows the number of hairs on our heads and even how many times we breathed in and out while reading this; Jesus’ covenant to us is his gift of love and grace for all time forever and ever and ever.
May God bless you, may the Holy Spirit strengthen you, and may Christ be with you in your renewal of life in his name,
- Fr. Marshall