We are suggesting that for this year the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord be celebrated together. Certainly, decisions will have to be made as to which takes central position in the observance during worship. The usual Epiphany symbols, like the wise men from Matthew’s story, wouldn’t fit as well when including the baptism of Jesus as a part of the remembrance. Yet, light as the central symbol of the season can be used, even as it might be enhanced with the water of baptism.
Epiphany is about seeing Christ, about the manifestation of Messiah in the person of Jesus. Certainly, the proclamation made at his baptism, the tearing open of the heavens, and the descending of the Spirit like a dove can be that revelatory experience.
A baptism remembrance could also provide the opportunity to remind the congregation that they are now the visible evidence of the presence of Christ in the world. When we claim the new life that we embrace at our baptism, we live the light that we proclaim. We are the witness to the activity of the Lord in the midst of the present-day reality.
This first service of the series is a perfect time to start with the invitation to discipleship—perhaps as a part of the baptism remembrance; perhaps as a separate invitation during the service. It is important to be as specific as possible about the invitation. Make sure people know the next steps if they decide to renew or begin their discipleship journey. How do they signal their intention? What support is provided? What commitment is required or suggested? Think the process through so that people understand clearly where they can start or take the next steps.
Worship should be a celebration; this is the beginning of a new year. We survived 2020, and while there might still be lingering effects of the pandemic and the unrest, it is time to embrace a new possibility, a new hope. The heavens have been torn open. But this isn’t a threat; it’s a promise of something new, something better. Let us commit ourselves to a closer walk with Christ. Let the waters of baptism renew us and cleanse us for our mission and ministry as followers of Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.