Why the font and candle are up front during Easter

Image: at the Easter Vigil, the kids and Angela did a wonderful job with the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale, using this cloth over the table as a backdrop for a puppet show.  It fit well (even color-wise) with the baptismal font.  In baptism we all go down into the water, into the deeps, and rise up to new life. 

by Pastor Bernt

Why are the font and candle up front? It’s not just the need many of us feel to rearrange furniture as part of Spring Cleaning!  It’s about the season of Easter that stretches now through Pentecost on May 20.

First, the baptismal font: one Easter tradition is “mystagogy,” or preaching on the mysteries, the sacraments (for Lutherans: baptism and communion).  In the early church, those who were baptized and had their first communions at Easter might put on white robes and come to church every day for a week to hear explanations of both sacraments.  (“What was that?! What did I just experience?”).  So even now Sunday scripture readings after Easter focus in on Christ is present giving resurrection-life to his people, in his word, the sharing of food and drink, washing in water and the Holy Spirit.   “Church” isn’t something we just are, but what God makes of us through the word, bath and meal – “the communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, life everlasting.”

What’s in our field of vision at worship, what’s central, and what difference does it make? Here’s an image from ELCA churchwide chapel a few years go.

The baptismal font is brought forward to be always within view, front and center together with the table in this season of mystagogy.  When the bell rings you can face forward (an adjustment!) as we begin with a prayer of thanksgiving for baptism, when we would normally begin with confession and absolution.

Usually, the baptismal font is located near the entrance of the worship space.  This fits a common understanding that baptism is about entrance: it’s a rite of initiation into the church.  I like it as a symbol of welcome: as you walk into the church, you are met by the waters where Christ himself wants to embrace and include all people.  Lutherans, however, emphasize that besides being an initiation, baptism is the life long center of our spiritual life.  As Mark Tranvik points out in an essay I read recently,* in the medieval church you were baptized as a baby but then when you sinned you needed to move on to the next sacrament, penance.  Martin Luther challenged this, insisting that in this life we never move past baptism.  No matter what we face, God’s promises made in baptism – of forgiveness and belonging – hold firm.  Even when we do confess our sins and hear the promise of forgiveness, we think of this as a return to baptism.

In Luther’s catechism he taught that each day we are to remember our baptism and receive Easter all over again: “daily” our fallen humanity with its sin and evil is drowned and dies with Christ (Romans 6), so that “daily” a new person might come forth and “rise up to live before God.”  I think of how important water is to Californians.  The waters of the font are a symbol of renewal and life that’s ever flowing.

So what about the candle?  As we look forward, we also see the Easter candle.  We get a new one every year and light it from a fire outside at the Easter Vigil.  We then follow it in procession to the altar area, like Israel following the pillar of fire when it fled slavery in Egypt by night, each of us lighting our individual candles from it.  We hear a song known as the Exsultet which explains its meaning:

…receive, O God, our praise and thanksgiving
for the light of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ,
reflected in the burning of this candle.
We sing the glories of this pillar of fire,
the brightness of which is not diminished
even when its light is divided and borrowed.
For it is fed by the melting wax which the bees, your servants,
have made for the substance of this candle … (people love that part!)
We, therefore, pray to you, O God,
that this candle, burning to the honor of your name,
will continue to vanquish the darkness of night
and be mingled with the lights of heaven.
May Christ the Morning Star find it burning,
that Morning Star who never sets,
that Morning Star who, rising from the grave,
faithfully sheds light on the whole human race.”
The Easter (Paschal) Candle is lit and and on display, clearly visible all during the season of Easter (as well as baptisms and funerals) to remind us that Christ’s presence in word, meal and bath is as lively as a flame.  God sheds resurrection light and hope on every situation we face as people making our way through this world.

*M. D. Tranvik, ‘Luther on Baptism‘, Lutheran Quarterly, 13 (1999)

 

 

Happy New Year and Lent

by Pastor Bernt

It’s a good opportunity to look back on what’s happened since Advent, and to look forward to the forty days of Lent leading to Easter. Maybe “happy” doesn’t seem to be the right word for Lent, but (thinking of our forums on happiness this Fall) I find myself looking forward to the simple joy of drawing closer to God and one another, even if the way of Lent leads through the wilderness and the cross.

But first: December and January! They whirl by fast. I want to pause, to notice and appreciate some of what we’ve seen:

A full house at the St Lucia Festival. Angela, Margaret and so many others make it fun (dancing!) and beautiful. This is one event that seems to be drawing neighborhood kids and families (and not just Swedes …). A few visitors also came drawn to what they felt to be timely theme of “Peace” at Lessons and Carols. One of you appreciated that this wasn’t a “cookie cutter Lessons & Carols service.” I enjoyed hearing how Luçik had the saxophone quartet accompany the choir.

Most of you do experience one of our beautiful Christmas Eve services. But some of you may not have noticed that at 8:30 recently, there were two services where not just most of the liturgy but all the music was led by youth. Angela and Todd’s son Sam did an inspiring job improvising bluesy gospel on guitar!

I am grateful for what Rich Schwerin and Julie Weiss have done to lead us outdoors, and more recently in leading us in assembling relief kits for Lutheran World Relief. John Allured has taken up new roles with the synod, and works hard to help us find ways to be a welcoming congregation in this new era of immigration policy. Don and Jill Knuth, for his birthday, shared the entire book of Revelation with engaging music and original art to an assembly of scholars and engineers from around the world. Kate and I were inspired to witness this Christian witness.

We could go on. I know folks don’t always like the attention. I also know there’s so much excellent and steadfast work that goes unseen. Just one of many possible examples: Joyce and Vince have committed great time and energy wading through complicated new responsibilities as Financial Secretary and Treasurer, as we transition to new software, managing another rental house, new forms of giving and so on.

Transition: that’s a word I associate with Lent. The forty days of Lent recall the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, a transition between the thrill of deliverance from Egypt and courageous steps forward into the Promised Land. I try to remind myself that we as a congregation are just several years into a major transition, from a long pastorate to a clergy couple, to changes in the Silicon Valley, and lots of smaller transitions that can be … big! Recently, Julia Ball moved out of state. I’m appreciating what she did here, and working on ways to keep the kids involved at the Easter Vigil in her absence.

And then there’s also all the changes in our personal lives, those your pastors know about and those we don’t. And, in our country! In the between-state of the wilderness, Israel was “tested,” learning to trust God in all things. They found joy even before the reached their destination. “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,” we hear in Psalm 25 (the first Sunday of Lent).

I appreciate your faith in God’s love and in this community. From the numbers I’ve seen so far, it appears we have met our goal of increased giving for 2017. We are finding our way forward in compassion for people in need, witness to the gospel of Christ, inspiring music and worship. God goes ahead of us, leading the way.