The Baptism of Jesus that we celebrate today (Gospel of Matthew 3:13-17) is, in one sense, the complete opposite of our Baptism. When we are baptised we are linked with God in a special way that hopefully we then live out in our lives. When Jesus is baptised, we see God linking himself to us, and that is why the Church celebrates it at the end of the Christmas season, because it is part of the same wonderful message.
God becomes a human being as a baby, yes, but God in Jesus also chooses to identify himself with us as adults, with all those people who went out to be baptised by John. These were ordinary people, admitting that they were imperfect, and that they needed God’s love and forgiveness. In his Baptism, Jesus chooses to be one with them and thus with us. He does not stand over them telling them what to do, but he stands alongside them, as he does us, showing how much he loves us and understands us, even when we go wrong.
So we hear in our 1st Reading (Isaiah 42:1-7) “He does not cry out or shout aloud… Faithfully he brings true justice.” That is why God the Father says “This is my Son, the Beloved”
This is a message that Pope Francis has been stressing again and again since he was elected. The Church of Jesus Christ is meant to be like Jesus. We are called as the Church to stand alongside people. By “we” the Pope means not only you and me, but himself and all the Cardinals and Bishops and Priests of the Church as well. He writes “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy … from clinging to its own security.” (Evangelii Gaudium 49) This surely is a challenge to all of us in the year ahead. What can we do to serve those around us?
It’s a hard challenge isn’t it, but this is what it means to live out our Baptism, and that is why we come to Mass regularly, to be reminded of the sacrificial love of Christ – “This is my Body.. given for you… my Blood .. shed for you.” – and to be close to his special presence in this Body and Blood present for us in the Bread and Wine blessed and consecrated by the Priest. This presence is, of course, for all who come, not just those who receive Holy Communion, and it is present also in every Catholic Church at all times in the Blessed Sacrament kept in the Tabernacle as a permanent focus for our prayer.
In most Catholic Churches this Presence of the Body of Christ in the Tabernacle, always there to comfort, strengthen and empower us, and signified by the lamp shining permanently beside it, is in the centre of the Church directly behind the main altar. This helps all those who come into church at any time to see it as the main focus of their prayer. It is linked thereby to the figure of Jesus on the cross which is also there in the centre of every Catholic Church. The comfort and strength of his Presence linked to the compassion and challenge of his Death – there to inspire us to love and serve others as he did.
(The following refers specifically to St Peter’s Eynsham. www.stpeterseynsham.org.uk )
This is why I am wondering whether we ought to make this happen at St Peter’s. For the last 8 years since I have been your priest, we have been trying hard to make sure our buildings are up to standard – new roofs on church and house, repair of gutters and downpipes, redecoration and now new heating, and we have had to raise a lot of money to pay for all that, which perhaps explains why I have never raised this before. After all, the Tabernacle is not far away in the side chapel, if slightly off centre, there for each one of us, and I was reluctant to spend a lot of money that we hadn’t got. But recently it struck me again, whilst praying, how good it would be to have the Blessed Sacrament right in front of us all the time as in most Churches. It also struck me that we have always had a beautiful tabernacle sitting in a cupboard, so that putting it there would not cost very much. That tabernacle is now at the back of church for you all to see. It would not therefore cost very much to install it, and we would move the lamp as well. A pillar of wood or stone would be built onto which to would be bolted. The other tabernacle would then be a fitting place to keep the Holy Oils and as a Place of Repose on Holy Thursday for the Watch.
Well that’s my proposal. There is the space right in front of you, made clear by the Priest and Deacon moving to the side, and I would value your comments before I make a definite decision one way or the other.