A Celebration of the Baptism of Jesus and Our Baptisms
First Sunday after the Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus
On the First Sunday after Epiphany, the church remembers the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist as recounted in the gospels. In that story, the power of the Holy Spirit is evident at the very outset of Jesus' public life of faith. Jesus surfaces from the waters of the Jordan, the heavens open, a dove descends, and a voice from heaven declares, "You are my beloved Child; with you I am well pleased."
The word Epiphany comes from the Greek epiphania, which means manifestation or revelation and suggests a shining light. On this day, the church recalls God's manifest presence in this and the many other episodes of Jesus' life. As we reflect on Jesus' baptism, we might follow Martin Luther's advice, in his larger catechism, to consider and recall our own baptism as well. Luther did not support repeating baptism but called on us to make repeated use of our baptism. He said, "A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued." Whether we have been baptized or not, remember it or not, we have opportunity today to claim and rejoice in the very real ways in which God comes to light in the church and in our lives. Through baptism, God declares that we are beloved children of God. God is well pleased.
In this service, Christians are invited to "remember their baptism and be thankful." It is a time to renew the baptismal covenant. This liturgy is adapted from the "Service of Water" found in the "Order for the Great Vigil of Easter" from Book of Worship: The United Church of Christ (pages 238–42). If you are to include baptisms, this liturgy, at key moments, refers you also to the "Order for Baptism" also found in Book of Worship (pages 129–44).
Call to Worship
One: In the beginning God created.
People: And it was good.
One: In the present God creates.
People: And it is good.
One: In the future God will continue creating.
People: And it will be good.
One: Let us gather to worship our God.
People: Who creates goodness in, through, and all around us. Amen.
Hymn "Crashing Waters at Creation" TNCH 326
Unison Confession and Assurance
People: Gracious God, too often our lives reflect chaos instead of creation. Living in disorder and turmoil, we exist as though you do not. Rather than the tender hovering of your Spirit, we feel the buffeting currents of change and doubt. Have mercy on us. Blow through our lives like a mighty wind this day, clearing away the clouds of despair. Shine brightly among us, renewing our reason for hope. Rain your love upon us, creating in us a new day.
One: This is the good news: The One who goes before us is more powerful than we are. Christ baptizes us not just with water but also with the Holy Spirit. As we receive that baptism, we become a new creation. We are forgiven. And God sees that it is good. The peace of God is yours.
Passing the Peace
(The congregation may greet each other with a sign of reconciliation and peace, such as a handshake or embrace, and they may say these or similar words.)
One: In Christ, we are a new Creation.
People: Thanks be to God!
Responsive Psalm Psalm 29 TNCH 638
Readings for the Baptism of Christ/First Sunday after Epiphany
Hymn "What Ruler Wades through Murky Streams" TNCH 169
Gospel Reading for the Baptism of Christ/First Sunday after Epiphany
Service of Water
One: Dear friends, on this day of re-creation we recall Christ's baptism, and we claim and remember our own.
People: We gather at this font of living water to celebrate the gift of God's redeeming grace.
One: For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
People: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, male or female—and were all made to drink of one Spirit.
One: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
(When there are candidates for baptism, present them at this time. Follow the presentation with the "Questions for Candidates" and "Congregational Assent" found in Book of Worship, pages 136–39.)
Affirmation of Faith
(All who are able may stand. The following traditional questions or a full creed or statement of faith may be used. The questions are addressed to the entire congregation.)
One: Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
People: I do.
One: Do you believe in God?
People: I believe in God, the creator of heaven and earth.
One: Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
People: I believe in Jesus Christ, the only one begotten of God before all worlds.
One: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?
People: I believe in God, the Holy Spirit.
One: Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and community, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer?
People: I will, with God's help.
One: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God's help.
One: Let us pray.
People: In this and all we do, keep us faithful to our Savior Jesus Christ, forever and ever. Amen.
Blessing of Water
One: Let us pray:
We thank you, God, for the gift of creation called forth by your saving Word.
Before the world had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters.
Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth the earth to sustain all life.
In the time of Noah you washed the earth with the waters of the flood, and your ark of salvation bore a new beginning.
In the time of Moses and Miriam your people Israel passed through the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing Jordan to enter the promised land.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus Christ who was nurtured in the water of Mary's womb.
Jesus was baptized by John in the water of the Jordan, became living water to a woman at the Samaritan well, washed the feet of the disciples, and sent them forth to baptize all nations by water and the Holy Spirit.
(As the following words are spoken, the water may be poured into a basin or font.)
One: Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water that by it we may be reminded of our baptism into Jesus Christ and that by the power of your Holy Spirit we may be kept faithful until you receive us at last in your eternal home.
People: Glory to you, eternal God, the one who was and is, and shall always be, world without end. Amen.
(If there are candidates for baptism, follow the "Act of Baptism" through the "Prayer for the Baptized" found in Book of Worship, pages 143–44.)
The Congregation Remembers Baptism
(All who are able and desire to renew their baptismal covenant stand. The leader prays the following prayer or similar words.)
One: Eternal God, you have come to us in Jesus Christ, given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins, Bless us now with the grace we need to fulfill what we have promised.
People: Keep us faithful to our Savior Jesus Christ, forever and ever. Amen.
(Pastors or liturgists may sprinkle the congregation with water from the baptismal font. Sometimes sprigs of an evergreen tree are used. Congregants may also be invited to come forward, as they are able, to dip their fingers into the font, put water on their forehead, or bless each other with water from the font and then return. The following words may be used during this time.)
One: Remember your baptism and be thankful.
Celebration of Holy Communion TNCH 16–20
Hymn "Wonder of Wonders, Here Revealed" TNCH 328
One: Renew in us, O God, all the gifts of baptism—strength for life's journey, courage in time of suffering, the joy of faith, the freedom of love, and the hope of new life; through Jesus Christ who makes us one. Send us in your Name, Holy One, Amen.
This worship service was prepared by David J. Holden firstname.lastname@example.org, minister for adult education and men's ministries, and Sidney D. Fowler email@example.com, minister for worship, liturgy, and spiritual formation with the Worship and Education Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries. For more information about worship and liturgy in the United Church of Christ, see www.ucc.org or contact the Worship and Education Ministry Team, 700 Prospect Avenue East, Cleveland, Ohio 44115-1100.
Copyright 2002 Worship and Education Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio. Permission is granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved. Designed and printed by United Church Resources, Local Church Ministries.
TNCH refers to hymns or resources from The New Century Hymnal (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1995). Similar resources may be found in other hymnals.
A Celebration of the Baptism of Jesus and Our Baptisms