Tomorrow morning I will be battling my way across London to Victoria Station for the 9.02 for Portsmouth Harbour – and so it seemed safer to send out the notices this evening before catching the 19.48 London train from Lime Street.
Not that I can afford the time away – having only just returned home from a sunny week in Tenerife. But family funerals always come first, even if it is at the other end of the country.
My Auntie Barbara – my mother’s sister. A long standing Christian and a member of the Mothers’ Union, I am honoured to be taking part in her funeral service on Friday. Her husband – my uncle Ken – was a decorated member of the SBS, specialising in being inserted in hostile territory, skilled in close quarter combat. This makes him particularly suited to being church warden at St Albans.
Family funerals are very special events. Sad, of course – but also an opportunity to meet up with everyone in that part of the family, cousins I may only see every 25 years. A lot of catching up, a celebration not just of the victory of Christ – which Barbara is now experiencing – but the importance of the extended family. It is how God has made us.
The Bible, of course, is very strong on family life, nurtured in successive generations through ritual and mutual obligation. And not just in the Old Testament. As glimpsed in one of the strangest passages in the New Testament when Paul is writing, at some speed it would seem, to the church in Corinth.
As he begins this difficult letter (difficult for him, that is) he makes it clear that the gospel is centred on Christ, not on him. After all his readers are baptised in Christ’s name, not his.
Thankfully, he had baptised only Crispus and Gaius. Then he adds in parenthesis, almost as a throw away line: “(Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)” 1 Corinthians 1:16
Baptism in the New Testament was often not of the individual but of the household. The Greek word is oikos – from which, for example, we get the word economics.
The only time, it seems, we talk about oikos baptism is in discussing the scriptural status of baptising infants and young children – but that is to miss the main point. For whatever the word oikos may mean, it must mean something. And its usual meaning in everyday Greek is the extended family, to include some slaves even and the occasional hanger-on.
And Paul baptised in terms of the oikos, as in the case of the Philippian gaoler. It is quite possible, of course, for each individual member of an entire household to repent and follow Christ But even so you would expect them each to be baptised as individuals rather than in a group as members of their oikos.
This means that the oikos continues even into the Kingdom of God, the cross does not make the role of the family redundant. The very opposite, for as disciples of Jesus, we are called to be particularly responsible for members of our oikos. So Paul writes to Timothy:
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own oikos, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8
Underline this in your Bible, especially if some members of your own oikos have gone prodigal or would be only too happy to sell you as a slave to some passing Midianite traders. A point worth making in our individualistic age. Families, even the large unwieldy, dysfunctional extended family, are important: they deserve our priority, even at 272 miles.