For many centuries, Easter was the principal date for Baptisms. The season of Lent was the time of preparation for baptismal candidates and a time for the faithful who are already baptized to remember their own formation as followers of the Risen Christ.
Following the the Sacrament of Holy Baptism with water and in the name of the Holy Trinity, the Bishop or Priest places a hand on the person's head and makes the sign of the cross with Chrism, a fragrant oil that has been blessed by the Bishop as Apostle and chief missionary of a diocese. During this action, the following words are said: "N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever." And the people respond, "Amen."
We usually have plenty to say about the significance of water in Holy Baptism, but we seldom mention the significance of Chrism. Our English word Chrism is derived from the Greek word χρίσμα, meaning ointment or anointment. The same Greek word is the root for "Christ" and means "anointed one" - Jesus is the Anointed One.
The Episcopal Church liturgy for consecration of this oil provides a brief but helpful explanation. However, since the consecration of Chrism is reserved to the Bishop, the liturgy usually happens only once a year at a time when few people are present to witness it. Yesterday, at Grace Cathedral in Topeka, Bishop Wolfe presided over a service that included consecration of Chrism. We heard the Bishop give this introduction:
Dear Friends in Christ: In the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over the creation; and, throughout history, God, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, he empowered his people to serve him. As a sign of that gift, the priests and kings of Israel were anointed with oil; and our Lord Jesus was himself anointed with the Holy Spirit at his Baptism as the Christ, God's own Messiah. At Baptism, Christians are likewise anointed by that same Spirit to empower them for God's service. Let us now set apart this oil to be the sign of that anointing.The Bishop then placed a hand on the vessel of oil and prayed
Eternal Father, whose blessed Son was anointed by the
Holy Spirit to be the Savior and servant of all, we pray you to
consecrate this oil, that those who are sealed with it may
share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ; who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
So, in Holy Baptism our sins are washed away. We are included in God's covenant, joined with the Risen Christ, and given the seal (guarantee) of the Holy Spirit, who will continue to work in us. When we rise from the waters of Bapitsm, we receive an outward anointing that assures us of our inward anointing. This act establishes our true identity. We are royalty, the adopted sons and daughters of the Sovereign of the Universe! We are "marked as Christ's own for ever."
Living into that identity is an opportunity for daily epiphanies, dearly anointed ones.