Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life, Death, Water and a Beloved Son

Baptism of Our Lord, 2015B
Scriptural selections appointed for today can be found here

In 2006, on my first day as a pediatric hospital chaplain, a transitional deacon in the church, I served as celebrant in the sacrament of holy baptism.  I did not want to do it.  I wanted to flee that room, that room that smelled like blood and grief.  But they all looked at me, this circle of family.  And I did.  I said the word and prayed the prayers and poured the water.    

And, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit screamed.  And, the water felt insufficient to the task.  

But it was all we had.

And, in those sterile drops of water and a gauze square to dry the droplets that were like tears, were all the yesterdays and todays of centuries.  In that water was the desperate hope for new creation and impossibilities made possible.  In that water was the sum total of all that anyone had ever hoped, dreamed, dared or proclaimed in the name of love.  

And, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit screamed.  

And, God cried out “you are my beloved”.

And, that was my first baptism.  And, the water swirls in the font, and beats upon the shore, and parts in the Red Sea, and is deep in creation, and the river’s current tugs at the robes of the prophet.  

And across the globe, the waters meet.  Sanctified by one hand or another.  Created by one God.  

The people wade into the Ganges; those garbed in white sing their way to the river; prayer floats across the sand as one body and then another is immersed in the waves.  The Pacific, the Atlantic, Lake Superior...creeks and streams, water barrels and fonts.  The water is poured and the baptismal pool is readied.  

All for one thing, new creation.  

And, with every baptism, in that moment of water.  Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  

The heavens are torn open and the Spirit cries.  

This is my beloved.  

I have truly wrestled with whether to share this story of my first baptism.  If it is pastorally sensitive to begin a sermon on the Baptism of our Lord with a death, if mention of the tragedy that surrounded so many of the baptisms I have performed, will distract from the hope that I wish to convey.  

But, our greatest hope and our greatest suffering are so closely intertwined.  The birth of Christ, followed by the slaughter of the innocents as Herod lashed out in fear.  The gifts of the kings followed by a family’s desperate flight into Egypt.  Cries of Hosanna turned to cries of crucify.  Crucifixion turned into resurrection.  

In The Crucified God, Jurgens Moltmann writes: “Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose that it must end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”

And the Spirit descends and the curtain is torn in two.  This is my beloved.  

And Jesus wept at the grave of his friend.  And, thus we know that God weeps.  

And the water drips from the heavens, a small monument to our sorrows and the hope born out of them.  

It is important to note that the word torn used by Mark in this passage, is the same Greek word used to describe the tearing of the temple curtain in two during the narrative of the passion.  The heavens were torn at Jesus’ baptism, and the temple’s curtain was torn likewise with his death.  God’s inbreaking action undeniable, God’s physical proclamation as creation is rent apart, the waters of the earth are divided and new life springs forth.  

You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.  

Imagine, God has broken into the world to tell us, us that we are beloved and that God is pleased with us!  

And, in our recreative action, in baptism we make a claim for who we are and to whom we belong.  Beloved children of God, children of the Creator, heirs to a peace which passes all understanding.  In baptism we emerge alive from the waters that could drown us.  

Take that death, we have defied you once again!  We make new what the world would destroy.  As Justin the Martyr would say,

we are illuminated (I Apology, 62)

Made luminous in baptism and in that illumination bringing light into the darkest of places.  We are a new creation in Christ and in that new creation we take a stand against the death dealing powers of the world.  

In my imagination, I picture each of us illuminated--glowing brightly in the darkness.  And, in my imagination, I picture those hurting places in the world and the possibility that our illumination will bring healing to the broken.  In my imagination we each burn brightly and defiantly--signs of the inbreaking of God’s love.  You, illuminated ones--lit with the knowledge of your love and power.  You illuminated ones, afire with hope.  You, illuminated ones, torch bearers for the cross we carry!  

By water and with the Holy Spirit, our calling and our response--we begin in the water and from the waters edge we go out into the world, illuminated!  

Today is a baptismal feast day and as such we remember our own baptisms as a means of remembering what we’ve covenanted to do in the world.  That said, the invitation to carry light into the world is not exclusive--doing God’s work in the world does not require baptism.  But, as Christians, baptism becomes our public proclamation of the salvific force of God’s love in the world.  It is our way of saying that out of death there will be new life and that the embrace of our creator comes with a calling into the world.  

And so, today we do the work of remembering why we do what we do, of telling God’s story of love for us.  In the baptismal liturgy there are prayers over the water (BCP 306-307).  These prayers do the work of what we call, anamnesis, remembering.  As I move to the font, I invite you to turn to page 306 in your prayer book.  

And, please join me in telling the story of the gift of water through creation 

“We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage
in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus
received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy
Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death
and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are
buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his
resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his
 fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in
the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

We who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.  We have been led through the wilderness and emerged on the other side with a new knowledge of God’s steadfast love.  We have been liberated from bondage and invited into the land of promise.  

And, yes, I know this is all beginning to sound like Easter!  But, we are an Easter people--a people of resurrection and every Sunday is our feast day!  

“Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your
Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and
born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus
Christ our Savior.”

Holy water...made holy by our stories, made holy by our hopes, made holy by the truth of God’s love for us.  

(then while asperging)

You are God’s beloved.

You are God’s beloved.

You are God’s beloved.

Let the people say, Amen.  
There may be dragons in the rain--there is no telling when the heavens may be torn open...