Anthony, I hope you like the Harry Potter books and movies, because I want to talk to you about how Harry Potter can help us understand baptism.
There are several connections between Harry Potter and baptism.
First, Harry was raised by people who had no idea what a powerful wizard he was. Now, you are better off than Harry because your family and friends know just how special you are. But baptism is when we – your friends and family – let the whole world know what a rare, wonderful, unique, and strong individual you are.
Baptism reveals both your past and your future. Baptism says that God loved and knew you before you were even born and will continue to love you for century after century until there are no more centuries to count.
Now the second similarity between the HP books and your baptism is a little scary but you’re a brave young man I know that you can handle it. When HP discovers who he really is, then he comes into conflict with He Who Must Not Be Named – Lord Voldemort.
At the very beginning of the baptism service you promise to turn away from evil and put your faith and trust in Jesus. In other words, there is darkness in the world and you will have to choose between the light and the darkness.
There are people who will hurt others and there are even people who may hurt you for no reason. Today you become part of God’s great struggle to overcome evil with good, darkness with light.
Third, do you remember the last book and movie in the Harry Potter series? When Harry sees his parents' graves, he reads this verse from First Corinthians 15.26: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." . In baptism you are freed from death, the death of brokenness and alienation to which all human beings are subject. You are freed from death and given the opportunity to participate in God's own life. Your powers of imagination and creativity are freed from limits and given boundless scope. You are born again to the possibility of bearing God's light too all around you.
Fourth, when HP discovered what a great wizard he was, he went off to attend Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and he began to have the most marvelous adventures. In baptism you have set out on a life long adventure, a quest. You will meet strange beasts and make life long friends. The prayer that ends the baptism service asks God to give you the gift of joy and wonder. There will be defeats along the way but if you keep on to the very end, you will find joy unspeakable and full of wonder.
I know that Christ Church doesn't look much like Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For one thing, you don't have to board a magical train at Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station to get here. But in a sense, this church is a lot like Hogwarts. Harry went to Hogwarts to learn to work magic. In this church, it is our job to teach you how to work miracles. In baptism, you are entering a world of signs and wonders. You are becoming an inhersitor of the Christian faith that celebrates a God for whom therse are no limits, a God who works miracles, a God who asks us to work miracles, too: miracles such as overcoming hatred with love, defeating anger with forgiveness, and rising from death to life abundant and everlasting.
When HP went to Hogwarts for the first time, Hagrid the giant took him to buy three things: a robe, a broom, and a magic wand.
Today I have four things to give you. Now, understand: none of these things is magic. The HP stories are just stories. There is no magic of the kind that we read about in the HP books. But there is grace and mercy and love in the world and in you and these things are powerful. The things that I am going to give you point you in the direction of God’s power and the power that God has given you.
First, here is a certificate of baptism. In the Episcopal Church we like to talk a lot about lay ministry, that is, the kind of ministry that God calls all of us to do, whether we are ordained or not. But we make a big mistake. When someone is ordained to the priesthood, we give them a great big certificate that they usually frame and hang on their wall. But when someone is baptized, we usually just give them a little postcard that they stick in their prayer book and never look at again.
So today I'm giving you a big certificate that says "We receive you into the household of faith. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with his in his eternal priesthood." The most important ordination that anyone receives is the ordination that we all receive in baptism. In baptism you are ordained into Christ's eternal priesthood.
Second, here is some of the water with which you were baptized. Water is very important. Without it we would die. All of us get thirsty, but we also become spiritually thirsty. One day soon you will know what that means. You will have moments when you long for meaning and purpose, when life seems dry and pointless. When that happens this water is to help you remember that you were baptized. You are a part of Christ who promised those who follow him that they would have a spring of living water in their hearts forever.
Third, we are giving you a t shirt. You've probably seen t shirts that say things like, "My dad went to Las Vegas and al I got was this lousy t shirt." Well, this is not that kind of t shirt. It's not a souvenir.
In the early church, people who were baptized were clothed in a white garment that they wore for the 50 days following their baptism. It signified the new life that they had received in baptism. This t shirt represents that white garment.
In baptism, you receive a new name, or more accurately several new names. You are still Anthony Michael Perna, but now you are also a child of God, an inheritor of God’s kingdom, a member of the Body of Christ and above all you are a Christian. Some of your new names are on this t-shirt. Wearing it will help you remember who you are.
The back of it also includes the name, address, and phone number of Christ Church. Never pass up an opportunity for free advertising.
Fourthly, we are giving you a candle to remind you of the light of Christ burning brightly in your heart.
And fifthly, we are giving you a cross. The cross is one of the most powerful symbols of the Christian faith. It reminds us of God's power to bring life and light out of darkness and death. Most Christian churches have crosses inside and outside. The cross shows us the way to our home, the church. Wherever God’s people are gathered is your home and we are your family.
There’s a story about a little boy who became lost in a big city. He was very frightened but a policeman found him and drove him around until he spotted his family’s house. Suddenly, the boy said, “Let me out here.” The policeman said, “Is this your home?” the boy said, “No, but it’s my church and I can find my way home from here.”
Anthony, whenever you feel lost and alone, look for the cross. It will help you find your way to the church, and we will help you find your way back home.