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What is...?

Baptism | The Bible | Christmas | The Church | Communion | Confirmation

Easter | Sacraments

Any suggestions for other topics would be welcome

What is Baptism?
Baptism is the entry-point into the Christian life, the sacrament that stands before all the others. It shows that we all need God’s love and forgiveness, remembering that we are part of a world which has wandered from God, even if we are tiny children who haven’t actually done anything wrong ourselves.

The Christian Church didn’t invent baptism. Jesus’s cousin John ‘the Baptist’ called the Jews of his day to be washed clean symbolically of things they had done wrong. The Christians took that idea over, but added the understanding that baptism ‘in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ united people with Jesus too.

Like most Christian denominations, the Church of England and the Methodist Church administer the sacrament of baptism to both adults and children. In the baptism of a child, the parents are thanking God for his gift of life, deciding to start their child on the journey of faith, and asking for the Church’s support.  An adult in baptism takes on that role himself or herself.

Today, those being baptized, whether babies or adults, symbolically ‘drown’ in the water of the font and are ‘born again’ to a new life in Jesus Christ. They are sometimes marked with oil as a sign of the Holy Spirit who will help them on their journey as followers of Jesus. Finally they are given a candle as a reminder of the light of Jesus in their lives.

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What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of ancient documents written between about 650 BC and 100 AD, some of them compiled from far older materials – the word comes from the Greek for a library. The collection includes myth, poetry, prophecy, history and biography. The books of the Bible tell the story of God’s unfolding relationship with human beings, through Creation and Fall, the experiences of the Jewish people as they struggled to understand the God they believed in, and finally the accounts of the witnesses who came to believe that God had specially revealed himself in a carpenter from Nazareth called Jesus. Christians all agree that the Bible is ‘the Word of God’, but have different ways of understanding what this means.

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What is Christmas?
At Christmas, Christians all over the world celebrate the beginning of God’s great plan for the salvation of the human race, when God the Son came to his creation as Jesus Christ. According to tradition Jesus was born in a stable, yet was visited by angels, shepherds and Wise Men.  St Paul wrote about A.D. 55 to the Christians in the ancient city of Philippi that Jesus ‘emptied himself, (of his glory) taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.’ The great God of earth and heaven had entered the most humble of human circumstances.

Nativity Play at Christmas in St. Jude's (2001)spacerCrib from 2001

Throughout his life on earth, Jesus taught people about a God who is loving, just and holy, not remote but who wants a personal relationship with his children.  By his words and living, and ultimately even by his death at the hands of the world’s powers, Jesus revealed what God is like. He showed that God’s forgiveness is open to all kinds of people, and that no one is excluded.  Jesus’s life also illustrated God’s power in restoring the sick and dying to new life.  He showed God’s generosity by feeding people who were hungry and God’s compassion by comforting those who were sad, dissatisfied and lonely.

So at Christmas we give thanks to God for the revelation of his love in the birth, life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Many Christmas customs date back beyond Christianity to the ancient pagan midwinter festivals that also fell at this time of the year.

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What is the Church?
We call everyone who tries to follow Jesus ‘the Body of Christ’. This expresses the idea that he has committed to his followers his work of healing the world and calling it to repentance and to experience God’s love. People who are ‘members of Christ’s body’ are in a sense united to him in this world, and so they hope to take part in the resurrection which began with him and which will be completed at the end of time.
The Church is a sign that God loves all his children. It makes God’s love and justice visible through its work, and through accompanying people through good and bad times. In the Church, at its best, we learn to live together as a community which has love as its guiding principle. The Church fails much of the time, but by God’s grace it keeps trying.

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What is Communion?
The sacrament of Holy Communion, called by different names in different Christian traditions, is the story of Jesus’s saving work for us expressed in a symbolic manner, and is the most vital way in which the Christian Church worships God. At the ‘Last Supper’ on the night before he died, Jesus took the bread and wine he was eating with his disciples, stated that they were his body and blood, and told them to ‘do this’ to remember him. The Church still follows this command. Over the centuries the ritual of Holy Communion has changed and developed until today it is something like a ‘photograph album’ with snapshots from the whole history of Christianity. As well as a symbolic meal, celebrated at the Christian family’s table, it is also a sacrifice, in which Jesus offers himself without end to ‘buy us back’ from our sins.

Officially people should be confirmed to receive communion but many churches leave this to individual conscience. Visitors to St Jude’s from other Christian traditions who take communion in their own church are welcome to receive it at our table as well. If for whatever reason you prefer to receive a blessing instead, please bring a book with you to the altar rails or keep your head bowed to show us.


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What is Confirmation?
The Anglican and Methodist Churches understand ‘confirmation’ rather differently. Both think of it as a way for people who were baptized as small children to declare their faith in Jesus Christ in an adult way, and to take on for themselves the promises made for them by parents and godparents. The emphasis is on growing as disciples of Jesus, and confirmation usually takes place after a course of preparation of some sort. However, in the Church of England people are confirmed when the bishop lays his hands on them and anoints them with oil, and it formally admits them to Holy Communion; whereas for Methodists confirmation is more about entry into full membership of the local church.

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What is Easter?
Easter is the greatest festival of the Christian year. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and God’s triumph over the sin and deathliness into which the world has fallen.

The Church prepares for Easter by the forty days of Lent, a time of penitence, prayer and fasting during which time the mood in church services becomes increasingly sombre as the day of the Crucifixion of Jesus, Good Friday, draws closer. Christians are encouraged to think about how far their lives reflect God’s will and whether anything needs to change in them.

Easter Garden 2008 Pascal candle Easter Garden 2008

On Easter Day, the church building is once again full of light and colour. Flowers are brought back in after the six weeks of Lent, and the triumphal word ‘Alleluia’ (from the Hebrew meaning ‘praise the Lord’) is used in services once more.  The priest proclaims ‘The Lord is risen’ to which the people reply ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’

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What are Sacraments?
Throughout our lives God reaches out to us, his children, to draw us into relationship with him. This goes on all the time, but at various points the Church has ways of making the process visible in symbolic acts, called ‘sacraments’ – signs of God’s love that we are able to see. The Latin word sacramentum means a vow or promise. A sacrament includes God’s promise to love and save us, and our promise to try and live up to his love. In a way, the Church, which we call ‘the body of Christ’, is a sacrament itself.


Jesus & the Roman Centurion (Mathew 8:5-13)


Updated: December 11, 2017