B is for Baptism (an alphabet for penitents)

Before it began in ash and dust it began with water: earth formless, void; Spirit hovering over deep waters (Gen 1:2). Our Lenten journey, too, begins in water. Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17). As Jesus enters into the watery chaos of the Jordan, that same hovering Spirit descended like a dove. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him.” This is one of the most awe-inspiring scenes from the gospels. Before Jesus does anything he wades in the water and is called God’s beloved. We recall this episode each time we remember our own baptisms.

When Jesus came to be baptized, his cousin protested, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”(Matt. 3:14). John the Baptist was the first to wonder why Jesus needed baptizing. He would not be the last. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, what did the Son of God have to repent from? The traditional theological answer is nothing (God is perfect in all his ways). Others look at the violence of God in the Old Testament and wonder if Jesus baptism signals a new way of ministry and mission characterized by the cross. Certainly, identification with sinners is a central component to why Jesus’ got baptized. Jesus entered into the muck of a Jordon wadi, as a way of signaling his entry into our own chaos. By entering into a baptism of repentance, Jesus joined in solidarity with sinners.

The reason for our own baptism is more clear: Jesus commanded it (Matthew 29:18-20). It is the rite of Christian initiation, a way of signaling our identity with Christ. With him we enter the waters, are submerged and raised to newness of life. Like Christ we meet the Spirit in the sacrament, are called beloved by God. Baptism signals our connection to God. Jesus identified with us by entering the water, we identified with Him by following him into baptism

But more than this, the baptismal way connects us to His mission for the world.  Bob Ekblad writes, “Jesus’ first movement as God’s Son is to leave the geographical land of Israel, understood as the the actual location of the kingdom of God, through this border crossing station—inviting all future followers to leave whatever has become Egypt for them in order to reenter with a new identity, a new agenda and empowerment of liberation” (A New Christian Manifesto, WJK 2008, 33).  Following Jesus demands that we too enter the waters and get engaged in the chaos of life.

Following Jesus demands that we too enter the waters and get engaged in the chaos of life. The promise is that in identifying with Jesus through the waters, we too are transformed into a people who reflect Christ’s values and priorities. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The hard news is that the Lenten prerequisite for mercy and pardon is to ponder again the initial identity of baptism . . . “child of the promise,” . . . “to live a life worthy of our calling,” worth of our calling the face of false patriotism; overheated consumerism; easy, conventional violence; and limitless acquisitiveness. Since these forces and seductions are all around us, we have much to ponder in Lent about our baptismal identity”( A Way Other Than Our Own: Kindle Edition, WJK, 2017, location 85).

Come to the waters, and enter into the life of God, and the life God has for you. Know that as you do, you will discover the Spirit already hovering there and the voice of Divine love calling out to you. Then discover what this baptismal way is calling us to.


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