I’ve been kind of stumped this week about what to say, both here in this message and on Sunday. You would think it would be easy. This week we celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer and remember our own baptisms. For everything I love about Church in the Cliff, there is some ambivalence about the trappings of the Christian faith. We all have different perspectives on that faith and different relationships to it, we are each a part of a slightly different story. This creates rich conversation; it’s challenging and enlightening. However, it does make it tricky to nail down the thing that makes us, us. For most Christians, the short list of things that make them Christians will include baptism and communion.
Jesus’ story is, in some ways, bracketed by his baptism and his death. Sure, there are the birth narratives, the Christmas stories, and a few odd stories of his childhood in Matthew and Luke, but the baptism by John at a relatively late age seemed to set off what he would become and do. In many ways, that baptism put Jesus on a collision course with his grim destiny. So it is fitting that baptism and communion are central ways in which we act out our faith.
Similarly, each of us who calls ourselves Christians was probably baptized. Certainly, we will all, also, die and, hopefully, we will do so in a way that inspires everyone to drink and eat. But that is a story for another season. Right now we’re at the beginning. While this beginning is something that most (all?) Christians have experienced, we have all experienced it in very different ways. Some were baptized as infants, water poured onto the forehead, running cold down the back of the neck, inducing screaming and crying. If there is any memory of it, it can’t be a good one. Yet, many are happy they did it. For those baptized so young, it marks a belonging, it names them as part of a community of support from the very beginning. Despite the tears and wailing, it’s beautiful.
Some of us were baptized later in life. I have to say, my memory of mine is probably not much better than if I had been an infant. As much as Baptists talk about the beauty of making a conscious decision to become a Christian, they certainly put a lot of pressure on people to do it at a very young age. I’m not sure how well informed I really was about the whole thing. Having studied it quite a bit by now, I’m not sure I would have been helped if they had spent a lot of effort explaining it. So I got dunked a million years ago and now I tell myself a story about what that means as if it had always meant that.
I suppose that’s what we always do with everything. We tell stories over and over, changing and shifting as needed, to tell ourselves who we are in a given moment, or maybe who we need to be to get through that moment. So I don’t know what story you might tell about your baptism, but I’d like to.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we tell stories of baptism: of the heavens and the deeps, of birth and death, and of rivers that keep flowing, washing everything away.
Grace & Peace,