The Baptism of the Lord


Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

Acts 10:34-38

Matthew 3:13-17

 

 

Dear Jesus,

 

It is one thing to ponder the wonder of your baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist.  It is another to consider the implications of my own in light of yours.  With yours, we celebrate and Epiphany, a proclamation that you are Lord.  With ours, we rejoice that we are identified with you as the object of God’s love.

 

You and John obviously had had a relationship prior to the encounter between you at the Jordan.  John’s ministry was highly successful if such huge crowds came out to hear him and if so many people were submitting to his Baptism.  As his junior, had you sat and listened to his message, perhaps even being in formation by him?  When was it that you decided that you had to go your own way?  When did you determine that your message would be new and good news markedly different from the reform that John preached?  So much of John’s proclamation had to do with dire warnings of a wrath to come, of judgment and condemnation for those caught unawares.  It is difficult to reconcile that message with the Suffering Servant Isaiah describes in today’s first reading, the one who brings forth justice to the nations without crying out, without shouting, without so much as a voice heard in the street.  Why do I imagine that John shouted a lot even as he admonished?

 

Your way will be the gentle way.  You will be about forming the relationship between people and God, the baptismal covenant, even as you help people to see and walk in the light of freedom.  You will not be about condemning but about calling people to the freedom of the children of God.  Your message will be for the nations as well as for the Jews.

 

And yet you must have wanted it to be obvious that there was continuity between your way and John’s, one message to be built upon and flow from the other.  Was it the Spirit urging you that day as you went to the Jordan and John and asked him to baptize you?  Was it the Spirit that told you this was the hour, that it was time to begin the response to the Father’s will?  There would be no turning back from this moment even as you must have wondered where this moment would take you.  It doesn’t say that John clapped you on the back and wished you well.  It doesn’t say that you parted after a fond embrace.  But it does say that you saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God descending upon you.  It does say that you heard a voice saying: This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.  This pleasure is at the beginning before you have accomplished anything.  Is this being well pleased at the start God’s way of say that God’s love is unconditional and forever?  The voice came from the heavens but did anyone else hear it but you?

 

     We believe that this is an Epiphany moment just as surely as was the coming of the Magi.  We believe that in your Baptism you are recognized as and proclaimed to be the Messiah whom we call Lord.

 

That is all well and good.  But I wonder if you want me to stop there.  Isn’t there much more for me to remember in this celebration that should have profound impact on my life and the way I live it?  Otherwise, the Word isn’t living and all I do in the hearing of it is to look back at an isolated moment and wish that I could have witnessed it myself.  But that moment at the Jordan was timeless and each time someone enters the waters to die and rise that moment is renewed, as is the covenant.  

 

Now I begin to see why the Font in every church is such a sacred space, a place where people ought to pause and reflect each time they enter the worship space.  I think I understand why each one should touch the water and wash again in the sign of the cross and so remember that it is only journeying through this font that one gains access to the Table to share in the meal that is prepared there.  It was not a minor moment when I was plunged into those waters.  I was called by name as I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And all the people, the Church, said Amen!  And just as surely, the earth shook, the heavens parted, and the voice was heard calling me God’s beloved, proclaiming that I am loved with the same love God has for you.  That is my comfort and consolation.

 

I wonder if you are telling me not to stop there.  To do so would be to make that a private moment to be cherished in my heart without implications.  If I was called by name and Baptized, if God spoke of God’s pleasure in me, all this was so that I could be sent to do what you did.  And that has nothing to do with making my voice heard in the streets.  I may have done that.  It has nothing to do with being judgmental or condemning, much less with breaking the bruised reed.  I must come out of the Font ready to minister and to love and to be vulnerable in the loving and ministry.  I think you want me to be aware that the journey that begins at the Font may well lead to where yours did, to Calvary, the Cross, to crucifixion and even death.  But not to defeat.  All the defeat was washed away in the Water.  Death stayed there.  And even if I am asked to pour out my entire being in service of the Word, if I die doing that, in you I will rise again.

 

Help me to remember in the dark times so that I will be strengthened for the journey.  And keep me looking forward to the next time I pause at the Font and touch the waters.

 

Sincerely,

 

Didymus 

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