Today in the church calendar we reach the end of the year. In the church’s pattern of readings, called the lectionary, this has been Year A, and the focus of the readings has been on the Gospel of Matthew.
And the last reading from the Gospel of Matthew is a picture of judgement. Jesus tells a story about the end of time when Christ returns in glory and there is a great judgement, when everyone is measured by their deeds. And what makes the difference in separating one from another is compassion. Those who are given in place in the kingdom are those who welcome strangers, who provide for those who are in need, who care for those who are suffering, who visit those who are imprisoned by their circumstances. All those who serve people in the community in this way are serving Christ. And the converse applies: all those who fail to help people in need are failing Christ.
In a few minutes, we are going to baptise F.
F told me that what attracted him to Christianity was what he had observed for himself, the way that Christians reached out to people of whatever creed or colour and gave them assistance. So it is a wonderful and amazing coincidence that the Gospel Reading set for today encourages that compassion and care.
And now F wants to make his commitment to following Christ. It is a very important step. Today, he becomes a Christian and a member of the church, the body of Christ. Today he is washed clean of sin and refreshed in the water of life.
I will be asking all of you to give your support to F as he is baptised. So pray for him, now and in the coming weeks. He will continue to study and learn about the Christian faith as he prepares for Confirmation by the Bishop. Help him with that. Get to know him.
Today, F will start to receive Holy Communion because he is “desirous of being Confirmed”, as the Canons put it. That is another big step. He will receive the body and blood of Christ; he will be united with Christ and nurtured by Christ. God is no longer separate, out there, but within him, part of him.
And part of us. And because we are committed to Christ, part of the Body of Christ, nurtured by the body and blood of Christ, we are called to be compassionate in the way that Jesus describes.
Today’s reading is a reminder to us about the way we treat other people. How can we as a church be more compassionate? How can we welcome other people with generosity and hospitality? How can we make the church a place where people feel safe, welcome and at home? We were looking at that in the Advent Course that began on Tuesday.
Next week, Advent begins. We turn to face the Coming of Christ, born as a baby in Bethlehem, and the Coming of Christ at the end of the age, whenever that may be. Next week, Year B begins with its focus on the Gospel of Mark.
F is taking a new step in baptism, and we are encouraged to go a little deeper into living out our baptismal promises. We do this together, in the name of Christ.