Sunday, 11 January 2015

Wade in the water

This morning at the aptly named St John the Baptist church we thought about the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river.

Why did Jesus come to John the Baptiser to be baptised? Surely the Son of God had no need for the washing away of sin? 

The gospel of Mark records that John had been calling the people to repentance and here is Jesus standing before him asking for water baptism too.

John knew his place though. He knew his baptism would give way to baptism in the Holy Spirit, offered by the Christ. As Jesus came up out of the water the heavens were 'torn apart' and the Holy Spirit rested upon him in the form of a dove. It's just what Isaiah longed for: 'Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down' - the word for 'tear' is skizomenous, suggesting a violent opening of the skies for the Spirit to be revealed. Mathew and Luke water this down (excuse the pun) to 'open'. It the same word used in English for 'schizophrenic' - a personality disturbed by something. The only other time it appears in the New Testament is when the curtain of the Temple is torn in two at the point of Jesus' death, a point not lost on at least one artist whose depiction of the baptism of Christ foreshadows an obedience 'even to death on a cross':

Original painting by Daniel Bonnell

The Holy Spirit is the empowering one, the one who calls us to wade deeper in the water, as Ezekiel was called to go from ankle deep to chest deep through the river of life. We plopped our stones into a bucket of water as an act of discipleship and decision at the beginning of a new year. To go deeper. To be filled with the Spirit in the middle of the mess and muddle of life. To wade in the water with Ezekiel and to identify with Christ in his obedience to whatever God brings. 

Baptism is expressed in many ways; often in our church it's a few drops on the head of a gurgling baby. At the beginning of the year, still in Epiphany, it's good to imagine being out of our depth, to consider overwhelming, the tearing of something familiar to let in something wild and holy.

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