The Baptismal Font here at the Church of the Advent – which we will use twice this morning – was the very first gift to the Parish. A Miss Elizabeth Perkins had it made for the Advent in 1850 when the church was not here on Brimmer Street, but on Green Street, which doesn’t exist anymore . It is, then, 166 years old, and over that length of time it has suffered some significant deterioration. Lately, though, it has been painstakingly repaired and restored by Louise Freedman, who is here this morning to witness its use, after her many hours of careful work. I hope that you will seek her out, and greet her, and thank her for what she has done for us.
The font was designed by Frank Wills, an Englishman, who was an artist and architect working at the beginning of the Gothic Revival here in America. As you know, this was a movement which sought to restore the traditional forms of design and decoration in churches and in other public buildings. I have been told that ours is the first traditional font in an Episcopal church in the country.
It is traditional first of all in its placement – near the main doors of the church. This speaks to us clearly: baptism is the sacrament by which persons enter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body, the Church; just as the doors enable us to enter the building which houses that body. New Christians are created by the sacramental water of the font, that’s where they enter and begin their lives as Christians. Later, as the baptized, they are restored and nourished as they pass through the doors into the place where they will be renewed by the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. It is a happy circumstance that the first gift to this Parish was something which signifies entrance and beginning.
Our font is traditional, however, in a rather less obvious way – and this is certainly what Mr. Wills intended, and only a few at the time understood – it has eight sides. Eight. You can count them – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 sides. This may not seem like a very big deal, but it is. A really big deal, for in Christian symbolism eight is a mystical number, or – better put – an eschatological number. It signifies the end of time – the eschaton – and the end of this world, and it points to the entrance, the in-breaking, of the new world created by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is what the New Testament proclaims. This is what the New Testament calls Good News.
Complicated ? Not really. Think a minute. The world that you and I live in is a world of seven days – seven days – a week – a pattern which repeats itself again and again. There is no eighth day – or rather, if there is, it is a day outside of the seven-day pattern. Jesus rose, as we know, on the first day of the week, but that first day was by his rising made to be the eighth day – the day outside of the old pattern of time and the old world. His rising made the first day, Sunday, become the eighth day, the eschatological day, and it created the new world empowered by Jesus’ victory over death, sin, hatred, and evil. Jesus’ Resurrection ushers in a new world to invade and then replace the tired, frustrating, and finally fatal world of seven days.
This is what St. John sees in his Apocalypse: “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15 ) And that is what baptism is all about – the entrance of a person into the new world of the Resurrected Jesus, and the recreating, the new birth of that person by the power and the presence of the Risen Jesus in their life. The saints whom we celebrated and rejoice in today are those who have lived their lives by that power and have made known the new world in their lives.
* * * * *
This morning for the Gospel we heard from St. Matthew that part of Jesus’ teaching known as the Beatitudes. We’ve heard it before. Some of us might be able to recite some or even all of it by heart. It may well be the most familiar of all the things that Jesus said.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Familiar ? But what if you heard this for the very first time and from someone you didn’t know ? Call me a cynic – I am – and I’m pretty sure my response would be this: “Yeah. Sure. Right. Who do you think you’re kidding ?” And if I were told that “blessed” can also be translated as “happy,” I might laugh out loud. “Who do you think you’re kidding; the world doesn’t work that way.”
No. The world doesn’t work that way. In the world – the seven-day world, I might add – the persecuted are persecuted even more; the meek are beaten up and trampled on; the merciful are taken advantage of; the peacemakers can make no peace and wars multiply; those who mourn had better get used to their loss. The poor in spirit, the pure in heart – who cares about them. And the prophets are mocked and ignored.
To be sure God created the world – the seven-day world – and God declared it to be good. Very good. But something happened, didn’t it ? Something went wrong. Things got out of joint and that world was fractured, poisoned, so to speak, and the good world became in part a vale of tears.
And that is why Jesus came to save us – to repair the old world, to restore its goodness, but more even than that, to transform it into a new world of grace and power and love and supernatural life. He came to create the world of the eighth day – the world in which the Beatitudes are true, and the Blessed are the Happy ones.
* * * * *
Has it ever occurred to you that the Beatitudes are really a self-description of Jesus and of his ministry ? Did he not live what he preached ? Was he not meek in the face of arbitrary power, hatred and lies ? Did he not hunger and thirst for righteousness ? Did he not mourn over the sadness and cruelty of the world ? Was he not a peacemaker ? Was he not pure in heart and poor in spirit, again, in the face of earthly power and corruption ? And finally was he not persecuted and reviled and falsely accused ? And put to death as a criminal ?
It would seem that the seven-day world had got the best of Jesus and got rid of the one who by preaching and healing and living challenged its stranglehold on humankind. But . . . God raised him from the dead. God raised him from the dead. In Jesus, in his life, in his death, in his rising, in the Risen Jesus God created, God set in motion, a new world, an eighth day of love and spiritual power, of grace and supernatural life.
Alleluia. Praise him!
 The location of the former Green Street is shown on this 1842 map of Boston: https://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/boston_1842.jpg (Brimmer Street, which was laid out on filled land after the Civil War, did not yet exist.)