Baptism is usually an event that is joyful and celebratory with family and friends. And this story of the baptism of Jesus suggests those happy qualities.
“10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
Who doesn’t want to hear from a parent that I am their beloved and in me they are well pleased.
But in verses 12 and 13, the very next verses we are told- “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness…for 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
He’s baptized and immediately is put to work.
And let’s include the context of Mark’s gospel when this story was told. The writer of Mark is unknown but scholars date the gospel at around 70 CE. This is what A New, New Testament says in the Introduction to the Gospel of MarK:
“…Its plot is stark and its scenes jagged with drama and pain. Broken bodies litter the story, with crippled, bleeding, and possessed people around almost every corner. Jesus himself is embattled almost from the beginning…even as he launches forth into the countryside to teach and to heal….The pervasive loss and trauma in Mark, even in the midst of healings and occasional wonder, have led many to propose that it was written immediately prior to, during, or soon after the devastating reconquest of Israel by Rome in 68-70 CE, in which thousands of people were tortured and tens of thousands died.”
This is a very traumatic time for the Israelites.
Fast forward to today, ten days into 2021. We are all aware of what is going on in our world. We see the headlines and the images - we live in a very traumatic time.
How de we know we are traumatized, individually and/or collectively? These are 2 major categories of symptoms, and they can be more nuanced and subtle.
numb; frozen, we quit feeling anything, find it difficult to care about what’s happening to others
hyper-vigilance or hyper-arousal; experienced as anxiety, emotional volatility (quick temper, quick to judge others), difficulty sleeping, nightmares.
What to do
talk to someone - talk, talk and talk some more. Talk to those you trust to listen without giving advice. Talk until you can feel and name your emotions. Talk until you are aware of your body and the sensations your body feels. Cry, rant, howl, whatever is there.
if this feels unsafe, call the crisis line or see a professional mental health care worker to help you. Stay safe.
within the limits of the pandemic - sing, hum, dance, walk, run, work out, move your body.
keep breathing, fully and intentionally.
Baptism is our promise to enter the path of transformation; to become like Jesus rather than worship him. And as the contemporary teacher and mystic Fr. Richard Rohr says;
“We must learn to be able to think and behave like Jesus, who is the archetypal human being. This becomes a journey of great love and great suffering. These are the two normal and primary paths of transformation into God, preceding all organized religion. This journey leads us to a universal love where we don’t love just those who love us. We must learn to participate in a larger love—divine love.”
We renew those promises as we repeat our baptismal vows together in a few minutes. Most of you who know me know that I came to the Anglican Church late in life. Even after 20 years I have to translate the words into language that resonates with me. Some of you may experience the same difficulty. For example:
Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in the Source of all that is, has been and shall ever be.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, the archetype of human beings who came to teach us what is possible when we remember who we are and are connected to Source.
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the field of the Source that is within and around us, in every created possibility on earth and in the cosmos, all that came before us and is never ending.
I promise, with help, to:
Continue living into the apostle’s teaching, participate in the shared meal and in the practice of prayer.
Persevere in the journey of transformation, and when I fail, I will take responsibility and return to the path.
Live my life in the way of Christ made visible in what I say and what I do.
Recognize the connection of all life with Source and see others with Love and not Fear.
Work for peace and justice for all and respect the dignity of every human being.
Remember the sacredness of the Earth; protect, respect, sustain and renew all of life here.
Those promises are very demanding and difficult. I doubt I’ll perfect them in this lifetime. They require me to include every single person on the planet as one of God’s own. That means the anti maskers who march in defiance of health orders; includes Donald Trump and the people who believe in him and behave in shocking ways. They include everyone and anyone whom I am tempted to make ‘other’ by judgement or condemnation. That doesn’t mean I accept their behaviour. It means I don’t contribute to the energy of opposition.
Baptism is serious business and it prepares and supports us in the tremendous work of mercy, forgiveness and humility that we offer to God as Christians.
I’d like to close with the last stanza of a poem by Luci Shaw called Jordan River.
Rising then, he surfaced, a sudden
fountain. But who would have expected
that thunderclap, the explosion of light
as the sky fell, the Spirit seizing him
violent, whir of winged light and sound
witnessing his work, his worth,
shaking him until the drops
flew from his shoulders, wet and common
and holy. Baptized sprinkling baptizer.