Immersed in mystery and deeply loved

The Baptism of the Lord – 13 January 2019

Today we jump decades from the scene upon which we have been reflecting since Christmas—the babe in the manger—the Word made flesh—to the event that marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. That event is his baptism by John in the river Jordan. So last week the baby greeted and worshiped by the wise men is, this week, the adult Jesus about to make a splash—in more ways than one—pun intended.

Jesus plunges into the water … the waters of the earth which are understood in the biblical narrative to life giving and life sustaining. But the waters of creation also portend threat, chaos and even death. That water is life giving is also true biologically, environmentally, scientifically and also from a host of other perspectives. We human beings, who carry around 60% water, know full well the sheer necessity of having enough water to survive; it does give us life and sustains it. And we are only too aware of its threat in flood and creative force.

But something much more than just water is needed for us to fully flourish. And that comes from our having been plunged into the baptismal waters in which we become one with Christ in the fullness of his life, his death and his resurrection. I have spelt those out because they encapsulate everything that it means to be human—delving into the fullness of life which always means experiencing the depths as well as the highs of life. It is not only in these highs and lows that our faith is refined and deepened. It is also in the navigation between the highs and lows that our faith is refined and deepened.

Our beautiful baptismal window in the nave captures the themes of his baptism: the are heavens opened, Jesus in the Jordan, John beside him and the Spirit descending on the Lord in the form of a dove.

Note that the Spirit descends as Jesus is praying. Luke’s gospel is full of poignant and striking pictures of the saviour praying. Here it is important for the Christian to realise that if we are to be like Jesus it is when we pray that we are open and receive the Holy Spirit. This Spirit prays within us, Paul reminds us, with sighs to deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

The Christian community is fully itself and exercises its true vocation by being at one with the Lord in prayer—that is—when it is worshiping. By this I do not mean the endless chatter of some pray-ers but the steady and peaceful abandonment that deep prayer affords; trusting that the goodness of the Lord will heal us and bring us to a fuller life and one which is more whole.

Much is prefigured in this baptism by John. But there is another element I want to draw to your attention which is crucial to our understanding of how we live out our baptismal covenant. It is that in the baptism of Jesus the Christ, who is the source and end of all creation much more is at stake. The whole cosmos—the world and everything in it—is drawn into this. Listen to what the fourth century bishop and father of the church Gregory of Nazianzus wrote of the baptism of the Lord:

Jesus comes out of the water, drawing the world with him, as it were, and raising it up when it had hitherto been sunk in the abyss. He sees the heavens, not being rent, but opening of their own accord.

The Holy Spirit bears witness. Here all is in perfect harmony, for the testimony comes from heaven, just as he to whom the Spirit bears witness has come from heaven. (Christmas Sourcebook, p.146)

Let me put this simply for you and I—what Gregory captures is the important truth that when we are immersed, not only in the water, but in the water with and through Christ who is with us—we are immersed in all that life presents: in its joys and sorrows, in its beauty and anguish, in its struggles and difficulties, in its trusts and confidences. In all this we are at one with Christ who accompanies us whether we are in good shape or not. He will not … does not … abandon us.

That is the import of our baptism. That is the import of our being plunged into his death and resurrection which the baptismal waters represent.

You know that one of my pin-ups is Saint Oscar Romero who found his voice and spoke up for the poor against the oppressor being widely misunderstood and dismissed. Romero captures the wider dimensions of our baptismal covenant to which I have been referring and he uses this baptismal language of immersion.

I have been learning a beautiful and harsh truth, that the Christian faith does not separate us from the world but immerses us in it; that the church, therefore, is not a fortress set apart from the city, but a follower of the Jesus who loved, worked, struggled and died in the midst of the city. (Baptism: A Sourcebook, p.23)

So there is no escape from these processes. But we have seen in the life of this baptised Jesus that it is exactly where we find God. Now I believe that this living out of our baptismal covenant requires constant and sensitive discernment. So I will share one of my friend Carol’s Summer Prayers. I hear her taking up the themes of Christmas and a life centred in the mystery of the incarnation—the one made flesh and dwelling not only with us but within us:

In our journey between light and half-light
may we not live in untruth and illusion.

For our first footsteps along a new path
help us, Lord, embrace mystery of the unknown.

If we walk dull familiar paths
help us appreciate subtleties of colour,

Or, if terrified by balls of flame, bring Your
keen steadiness, not panic, into our mind.

Grant us retreat time to overview, as well as
moments to touch the crinkly gum tree’s bark.

Help us resist stepping stones of self-justification,
temptations to deny, falsify, be defensive.

When we pause to consider and question
let our reflections nourish the hearts of others.

When we stumble, trip over, make mistakes,
help us take responsibility for our own actions, not others.

May each day teach us a new way,
bring us love, aliveness, vitality

And may our final footprints be light,
creation abiding in Your care, Your will, Your life.

20 Summer Day Gallery Prayers Day 4
Facebook Post, Saturday 12 January 2019

Each day since we were born the Lord has been keeping us in his gaze and in our baptism that takes a fruitful and life-giving form. We are to lean in to this baptismal life. It is personal yet also cosmic. It is decisive but also a process of discerning. It is healing and also radical change. It is nurturing but also takes us into places we least expect.

This is our baptismal vocation … let us really abide in it and let it be the way we live our life. Abiding in it we trust in the abundance of our God who desires our safety, our healing, our wholeness. Abiding in this abundance we experience ourselves as being loved, as we always have, as the beloved of God.

Fr Stuart Soley