Remember Your Baptism?
3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
3:14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
3:15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
3:16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Do you remember your baptism? Considering my audience this may strike you as an odd question, but I remember my baptism! I grew up in a different Christian tradition that practices adult baptism. So I was 21 years old when I was baptized. I was baptized in the ocean…in the Tickle to be precise. It was early summer. There was an iceberg in the Tickle. Needless to say it was cold.
My thinking on baptism has changed dramatically from that day, but I think of that day every time we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. I think about the person I was. I think about the person I am. I think about the person I am becoming. While much has changed in my life and my ministry, I find myself anchored in the baptism that took place that day.
I was immersed in the water, symbolic of my death in Christ, and being raised alive in Christ. There was no booming voice from heaven, just the chattering of my teeth and the twangy strains from the musicians on shore. I was not marked with oil that day, as we do in our tradition, but that day left an indelible mark on me.
I always find that the Baptism of the Lord is a time for us all to reflect on our own baptism. Maybe you don’t remember your baptism, but does it mean anything to you? Does it shape the kind of Christian you are? Or is it some distant ritual that was done to you or for you by dutiful parents?
I guess the first question to tackle is what is happening in Jesus’ baptism, or better yet, why does he need to be baptized at all? The Church has stumbled its way through explanations of the baptism of Jesus from the very beginning.
It can’t have anything to do with repentance or forgiveness of sins because Jesus is sinless. So what is going on in Jesus’ baptism?
The ancient world, both Jewish and Pagan, was filled with examples of ritual washing and bathing, all with the sense of washing away sin or impurity. Even John the Baptizer’s ministry of baptism, on which our Christian practice of baptism is founded, was one of repentance. John baptizes in the Jordan River, the symbolic boundary marker into the Promised Land.
The Hebrew people enter back into the wilderness to be baptized by John, and then re-enter the land promised to their ancestors Abraham and Sarah. A new people, welcomed and washed, for the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom – the Kingdom long proclaimed and promised through the prophets, sages and psalmists.
The Gospel writers seem hesitant to apply this meaning to Jesus’ baptism. In Matthew’s Gospel, John is reluctant to baptize Jesus, and in the Gospel of John it’s not clear that Jesus is even baptized.
Only Matthew has Jesus cryptically explain his desire to be baptized as a fulfilling of all righteousness. Matthew, Mark and Luke all report the heavens opening up, the Spirit descending and the voice that names Jesus as God’s beloved.
The baptism of Jesus is a matter of identity. Jesus is sent by God, filled with God’s Spirit and is God’s own beloved child. This is core to the rest of the Jesus story. Everything else only makes sense in the light of this identity.
His teaching, miracles, parables, actions, and even his death and resurrection all take their meaning from the truth that was spoken over Jesus at his baptism.
Keep in mind that this the Season after the Epiphany, a shorter Ordinary Time. This is a season of revelation of who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world. Just last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, where Jesus is revealed to the Gentiles.
Like the star in the sky, Jesus shines forth to all the nations. Jesus’ significance is not localized to just Israel or even to Christianity. His significance is global, cosmic, heavenly. His baptism is kind of like his coming out.
Also keep in mind that Epiphany is not just a season of revelation about Jesus. It is also a season of revelation about ourselves. Over the next couple of weeks we will read stories of how Jesus called disciples, and of how they left everything to follow him.
Epiphany tells us something of who we are too, or least about who we are called to be.
So what might the baptism of Jesus be telling us about our own baptism? Now I do not want to turn this into a whole theological treatise on baptism. I do not want to get bogged down in original sin, repentance and salvation.
Any theologian worth their salt would, again, warn me about drawing too many connections between the baptism of Jesus and our own baptism. The Christological implications are just too dire.
But I think there is one huge connection we can make between Jesus’ baptism and our own. Our baptism, too, is about identity. For a long time in the church, baptism was about giving a name. As the priest would take the child they would say, “Name this Child.” We also used the language of being baptized Anglican, Catholic or Lutheran, maybe some of us still do.
In baptism we are not given a name, but we are given an identity. We are not baptized into one particular part of the church, made Anglican or some other denomination. In both the water and the oil of baptism we are given a new, unshakeable identity.
We are marked as Christ’s own, forever. Like Jesus we, too, are God’s own beloved child. Nothing can change that. Nothing!
This is important today, maybe more important than ever. There are dark forces, market forces, which will try to label us with anything besides this honoured title as God’s beloved.
They will mine you for your data. They will swipe you like a credit card, just another purchase. They will tell you that you are too poor, too rich, too fat, too skinny, too smart, not smart enough…you work too hard, you don’t work hard enough, on and on and on and on.
There are other ways with which others try to identify us…or maybe we use them to identify ourselves even: conservative or liberal, male or female (or maybe neither), gay or straight, Canadian or foreigner, believer or non-believer, Anglican, Christian or…
It’s complicated. Again we could go on and on. Then there are the roles we take on throughout our lives that which, if we’re not careful, we can too closely identify ourselves. Then when the role changes or ends, we just don’t know who we are anymore: wife, husband, parent, employee, friend.
Lutheran preacher David Lose cautions us not to lose ourselves in all these identities when he says, “It’s not that all these other names are worthless; some of them may be quite important to us. Rather, it’s that while all these other names, affiliations, and identifications may describe us, they dare not define us.”
The only thing that defines us, continues to define us, is the identity that we are given in baptism. And maybe it’s not that it’s given in baptism, but that we acknowledge and celebrate it in baptism. Are the baptized anymore beloved than the unbaptized? I would like to think that’s not the case.
I would like to think that if even a portion of what we say we believe about God is true, then all people are God’s children, whether they acknowledge God or a particular religion or not. That family member or co-worker that drives you crazy: God’s beloved child.
The person who sounds different, looks different, smells different, who believes and acts differently than you: God’s beloved child. Even the person who you might hate, or even recoil at their presence: God beloved child.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t that what the ministry of Jesus was centered on, and what the Kingdom of God strives after? The truth that all human beings are created in the image of God, are beloved…that God fills them all with God’s Spirit, full of purpose, and love.
That being God’s beloved means treating others as if they, too, are God’s beloved, loving neighbour as yourself. That the church, is a community of the beloved, whose mission is to be sent out just as Jesus was sent, to proclaim and live out God’s Kingdom, God’s justice.
So may we remember Jesus, the beloved, and his ministry among us, even still today. May we remember who we are, and whose we are…that we are marked, dripping wet in water and oil, and full of God’s Spirit.
And not only us – the entire human family too, is God’s beloved, to whom we proclaim in word and deed, in love and service this God news of God, in Christ.