Lectionary Reflection for the Baptism of Jesus
January 11, 2015
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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11
And, we’re off! The infant Jesus, the parade of shepherds, the singing angels, and gift-bearing magi don’t even get a cameo appearance in Mark’s account of the good news. In the twinkling of an eye and the span of a few verses, readers meet Jesus as an adult at the Jordan River ready to be baptized by his cousin, John. Mark, with his sense of urgency, excitement, and immediacy provides a sparse account of this landmark event punctuated by God’s voice sounding, the heavens rending asunder, and the Holy Spirit dive-bombing the newly baptized Son of the Living God.
From Mark’s account it sounds like everybody’s doing it–John’s baptism that is–confessing, repenting, and beginning anew. Perhaps it was the most happening event around, the place to be and be seen, the latest and the greatest. Whatever the case, John the Baptizer makes it abundantly clear that there will be one who is different, one who will baptize with Spirit, one who will be the real deal.
Sure enough, in the next verse the “one who is more powerful than I” shows up to be baptized with water, to submit to John’s baptism even though John self-identifies as being not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal thong. It’s a pivotal moment, but Mark doesn’t linger long because there’s so much more to tell. No fancy baptismal cake, Hallmark cards, and photo opportunities for Jesus; there’s no time to rest on one’s liturgical laurels. One minute the Son of God is dripping wet and basking in the affirmation of his Father, and the next minute he’s driven into the wilderness by the very same Spirit that just descended on him.
We celebrate this event in our Lord’s life each year during the season of Epiphany, but what connections do we draw between Jesus’ commissioning and his “diving into” ministry head-on and feet forward at the insistence of the Spirit? For many of us the day may serve to remind us of our own baptism, of the day we met water and Word whether or not we realized what was happening. Maybe we made our own promises, or perhaps someone made them on our behalf. Do we see it as a commissioning, as the point in which we are continually called to dive into the deep waters of mission and ministry ourselves? We walk in Jesus’ wet footprints, to be sure, but each one of us is called, named, claimed, and sent.
We should also remember that not all who hear these words have experienced baptism yet and may have questions about it as an entry point of faith. Can we create space for where they are in their journey, make room at the table, trust the Spirit’s working in their lives? Can we take our own baptismal promises seriously, living into them afresh each day?
This week’s lesson from Genesis reminds us of the creative power of God to speak everything into existence, to name night and day, even as God names us as children in the waters of baptism. In word, in water, in song, in meal–whatever and however your worship flows this day–make it a point of beginning again, of splashing in the holy waters of baptismal identity, forever wet and plunged into ministry and meaning as God’s beloved in the name of Jesus, with whom God is indeed, well pleased.
In the beginning…God created. God is still creating, redeeming, restoring, and renewing. Baptism marked a new beginning for Jesus, and baptism marks a new beginning for each one of us. Consider an Affirmation of Baptism today. Make a place for people to write the date of their baptism on a poster or in a book. Collect photos of baptisms that have taken place in the past year. If you have time invite people to submit photos of their baptism and create a photo montage or slide show to project during one of the hymns. Remind everyone to remember their baptism each day–each new beginning–and to give thanks to God for the gift of baptism.
If you have a youth group meeting today (and you have an appropriate space and it’s not freezing cold in your location), consider having a super soaker baptism party. Invite youth to bring super soaker or squirt bottles and have a “Remember Your Baptism” event. As part of it talk about the role of baptismal sponsors in your tradition, sometimes referred to as “godparents.” Ask youth if they still have a strong relationship with their sponsors. Talk about the role of baptismal sponsors, the role of the congregation in supporting the newly baptized, and in how sponsors are important in passing on the faith and encouraging new Christians and their families. Encourage youth to make contact during the week with their sponsors and ask them what they remember about the day of their baptism.
Bring a super soaker, a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo, maybe a back scrubber, big towel, shower cap, bath toys, etc. Talk with the children about what you need to take a bath. You can pull the various items out of a shopping bag or box if you want. Talk about how a bath gets us squeaky clean. How often do we need to take a bath? What about baptism? Sometimes people describe baptism as a bath. Do we need soap, shampoo, a shower cap (run through the whole list of bath time accoutrements) for baptism? Of course not! Do we need a super soaker for a baptism? Of course not! What do we need? We need water and word for this Sacrament–ordinary water and holy word. Jesus makes us clean without shampoo or soap. But, even though baptism happens once, we can remind ourselves of our baptism every time we wash our hands, wash our face, or splash in the water.
If a child has not yet been baptized, make sure they feel included by talking about how God is ready to meet us in the waters of baptism any time and loves us unceasingly at all points in our life. Assure them of their place and role in the community.
Photos: Joe Mabel, Jan Smith, and Prayitno, Creative Commons. Thanks!