After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”The Gospel according to Luke (3:21-22)
On Sunday the Christian year told the story of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. It is a beautiful story of Jesus approaching among the crowds and receiving a message of divine affirmation from God: “this is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
As I reflected upon the story, I remembered a moment from my doctoral work several years ago. During one of my final residencies we ventured south of the Fleming Island, Florida campus to the beautiful St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Green Cove Springs on the banks of the St. Johns River. The building was adorned with the motto “Come to the Waters” and was an appropriate place for a baptismal renewal service. After several days of immersion in a theology of baptism the trip was a welcome respite from the headiness of our studies, allowing us to practice with our bodies the rituals of the Church.
We gathered in the sanctuary for song and prayer then moved outside to the banks of the river to remember our baptisms: the drawing up of our very selves into the divine. One of our professors, an Episcopal priest, invited us forward to dip our hands into the water and share a story of our experience of baptismal renewal. I shared of my ongoing struggle with depression, deep sadness and loneliness, and the trouble I have experienced finding a theological and liturgical home. I told of a particular time, during my novitiate in the Order of Saint Luke, when the depression and oppressive feelings of failure were so heavy upon my spirit that the only thing that would get me out of bed was the ritual each morning in our order of remembering our baptism. I shared that, in the days when the sadness was so deep, and the loneliness so raw, I would place the water on my forehead. For when I could feel nothing of the Divine, my body felt what my spirit could not. And it is exactly what I needed.
For me, being a Christian is living this kind of mystery. Baptism is a ritual of bearing for and in us a grace of God, speaking to the beautiful and mysterious way in which God draws us up into the restoration of all things in Christ. Baptism is God’s doing, not ours. The narrative thread of water that is woven throughout the Bible is one of healing and hope that God brings to us.
Baptism and its remembrance as a way to live into God’s ongoing healing is necessary for us as Church. It touches our bodies and spirits with the essence of earth and reminds us that God cares for our most basic needs. And without that kind of remembrance in the pilgrim journey we will be anemic in our witness of beauty and truth.
God desires our spirits and bodies to be healed, and baptism is God’s work in moving us toward that healing. In past dark days of loneliness and sadness, as I splashed water on my forehead and remembered my baptismal identity, God’s spirit was with me even though I didn’t feel it. In these days, when I still feel the lingerings of loneliness, sadness, and failure, God offers the cool running waters of hope and renewal. They are the same waters that touched my face years ago. They are the same waters that Jesus felt pour over his head. And it is the same sentiment that God speaks to us that was said to Jesus: “you are my beloved.”
I think God understands that sometimes our bodies need to feel God’s love so that our spirits can understand it. So, friends, feel the beauty of God in the waters today. And experience how God is nourishing you in the journey of faith.
May the peace of Christ be with you in your journey,