is Ascension Day, the day we remember Jesus’ returning to the Father – and the
significance of this event. For those who are interested in APEST, Ephesians 4 is an ascension text:
each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore
it is said,
he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
gave gifts to his people.’*
it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into
the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far
above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some
evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work
of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to
the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to
the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children,
tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s
trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the
truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into
Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every
ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes
the body’s growth in building itself up in love.’
Paul, the writer, references Psalm
22-year-old suicide bomber is not some different-to-us category of evil person
we can’t understand or do anything about.
is likely isolated, struggling with big questions and looking for answers,
disaffected with society. In other words, he is no different from many of our
of coming under the influence of terrorists, he might have been found by the local
drug dealer, and spiralled into self-destruction. Or a local gang, and knifed a
kid at a bus stop.
he might have been found by a sports coach, an inspiring teacher, or a
sympathetic employer. He might have been found by a preacher of love, a local political
party, or grass-roots community. By a neighbour who smiled and said hello.
is easy to worry about who is influencing young people.
is better to be an influence for hope and a future.
seek to understand actions that seem inexplicable to us is not necessarily to
condone them, but to insist on showing compassion, which, I believe, is the
only way we guard our humanity.
I’ve been thinking about baptism and the
preparation of candidates for baptism, and also about APEST (apostles,
prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) recently, and find myself making
the following connections between them.
In our liturgy of baptism, there are three symbols:
oil, water, and a candle.
The oil comes first, as we mark the candidates with
the sign of the cross, in oil, on their foreheads. This is an anointing. As
such, we are recognising that the candidate has been chosen by God to fulfil a
special role. It is a deeply Christocentric anointing – they are marked with
the sign of the cross, the sign of Christ, along with the words ‘Christ claims
you for his own’ – but it is the candidate who is anointed. That is to say,
they are anointed into a share in Jesus’ calling.
Note that this comes before we get to the act of
baptism. At this point, they are not yet identified with Christ as members of
his Church, but rather are being identified with Christ in his humanity, as
members of the human family. What we are recognising – what we are anointing –
is a unique share in Jesus’ fully-human nature, his incarnation; and this
anointing is for the purpose of taking a stand against all that rebels against
the God-given commission that we should steward this earth.
According to Ephesians
4, there are five human impulses that Jesus perfectly expresses, and that we
share in. These are:
the apostolic impulse to innovation and pioneering,
to taking ourselves beyond the known;
the prophetic impulse to pursue justice and to
protect beauty – and often, to use beauty to resist and overcome injustice;
the evangelistic impulse to share good news,
wherever it may be found;
the shepherding, or pastoral, impulse to care for
others, paying special attention to the most vulnerable;
and the teaching impulse to learn and pass on
Each of us carries all five impulses to varying
degrees, but we tend to have one or two that are primary. It is this
Jesus-defined humanity we are recognising here. Where baptism candidates are
infants, we have yet to (help them to) discover the role for which we are
anointing them: we do so in faith.
Next comes the water of baptism. Here, we are
identifying the baptism candidate with the saving work of God, who always comes
to rescue us from chaos. The water of baptism, poured out three times recalls
God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – drawing out dry land from the waters; saving
Noah and his family during the Great Flood; bringing the Israelites out of
slavery in Egypt through the Sea of Reeds, and, after many years in the
wilderness, across the River Jordan into the Promised Land.
In baptism, we are symbolising the reality that God
has ransomed the candidate. This finds its expression in Ephesians 4 in verses 8-10, which draw on Psalm 68 and the imagery of God descending on Mount Sinai and
ascending Mount Zion, liberating captives and receiving tribute. We move from
Jesus claiming us, as members of the human family; to God saving us, into the
family of the Church…and then to Jesus giving us to one another and for the
The third symbol is the giving of a candle, lit
from the Paschal Candle which represents Jesus the Light of the World. Here, we
are commissioned to shine as lights in the world. Again, this is to have a
share in Christ – lights, dependent on the Light. The baptism candidate has
been anointed, passed through the waters, and is now sent out into the world,
to make a difference. The person they are by Jesus’ involvement in their coming
into being (Creation Order) is redeemed (Salvation Order), liberated to fulfil
their calling, shining in the world according to an apostolic or prophetic or
evangelistic or shepherding or teaching impulse.
The role of the Christian community – with parents and
godparents often having special responsibility – is to support the baptised to
grow in their understanding of what they have been anointed and liberated for,
and where and how we are called to shine as a light. This is as true with
adults who come to baptism as it is with infants who are brought for baptism.
It is a lifelong journey made by faith, in community. It is a journey made in
response to the call of Christ, from
which we get the word vocation as a
way of coming to our right selves.
I am convinced that the pattern of Ephesians 4 is key to our practices of
disciple-making, and is therefore rightly there in the very liturgy of baptism –
and all that brings us to that point, and flows out from it.