Feast of the Baptism
Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
I stumbled across a video earlier this week of a 70’s TV show, All in the Family. And, in the episode, things have gotten pretty tense, even more than usual, between Archie and his daughter and her husband, Michael, who Archie calls “a dopey atheist,” and worse. You see, Gloria, Archie’s daughter and Michael have just had a baby, Archie and Edith’s first grandchild. And the grandparents, like nearly all grandparents I have ever come across, are completely in love with this new baby. But Michael, Archie’s son-in-law, with whom Archie is nearly always in conflict, mostly because of the older man’s racist and narrow-minded tendencies, is a self-professed atheist. Archie, of course, is wondering when the baby, Joey, will be baptized. “Never,” is the reply he is met with. Michael can conceive of no reason why his son should be baptized into a faith he does not remotely believe in and often mocks. His wife does not necessarily share her husband’s beliefs, but agrees and so Archie is forbidden to do anything relative to religion with the baby.
But Archie is not one to sit still. He doesn’t like to be told what to do in situation and he truly believes it is urgent and vital that his only grandchild be baptized right away. So, in a scene from this episode, which I posted on Facebook on Friday, Archie takes his grandson for a ride one day and steals into a local church by himself. And in this rather touching scene, he professes his own deep belief in God, in spite of it all, and that his grandson is a “Christian” and he baptizes him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” conceding that he is going to be in big trouble when he gets home.
Something that Archie says sticks with me. He says, before he “baptizes” his grandson, that one reason he is doing it is that he “doesn’t want him [grandson] growing up in this rotten world of yours [meaning God] without religion.” We understand that All in the Family was simply a show, even if it was one that tackled challenging issues like racism, gender equality, and religion. But Archie hits at the fundamental nature not of religion but of Baptism. The reality is that Baptism draws us into the community of God’s presence such a way that protects us – not from harm, but from the hopelessness that marks a world where God’s presence is not experienced or known. Baptism marks our yearning to enter into relationship with God, a relationship that we desire, need, and struggle with, all at once.
Let’s look at the Prayer over the Water in the Baptismal Rite ( in the Book of Common Prayer on page 306) because what it hints at, I think we will find, is something wild, wonderful, ancient, and fresh, all at the same time. We are connected, as Paul reminds us, by virtue of our Baptism, into the life, Resurrection, and death of Christ. Baptism isn’t something we do; it is a Sacrament that we enter into understanding, on some way, that we enter these waters of Baptism to be changed and made new.
Water is, of course, a necessary part of life. We are made up primarily of water, and water occupies a majority of the planet; we are surrounded by water, unless maybe we live somewhere like Colorado or Wyoming, and even there, an absence of water is something that occupies one’s attention. There is a creative nature to water, which we have, perhaps, forgotten; that period of time when we floated around in the womb for all those months. Every civilization, too, has a narrative around water, and many have the story of a great flood. Our Baptismal Prayer over the Water is resplendent with our story of salvation, the yearning of our hearts that find their home in God. Follow along if you will, or simply listen, on pages 306/307.
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 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 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.
Water ties us to the great story of God’s people in the creation of all things; through the exodus of Israel; through Christ’s baptism. Our baptism boldly declares that we are buried, resurrected, and brought into the company of God and our fellow humans through the prophetic and present mercy of God in Jesus.
But water is not a tame element, is it? Water is wild and can be whipped into horrific frenzies of hurricane, tsunami, waterspout, flood, and we can be destroyed by it, drowned and unable to recover. Water, in the ancient world, often was symbolized by chaos. In ancient renderings of Christ’s baptism, he is often depicted with water up to his neck and under the surface of the water could be seen the pagan creatures and deities of the water that also represented chaos. Jesus doesn’t so much calm the storm of chaos, but rather He enters into our chaos, and saves us amidst the storm of life.
Jesus, God made man, came to us, in human form, in the middle of a world of chaos. One might, like Archie Bunker, say that God made the chaos. God brought life into chaos but God chose not to abolish the chaos, either. God, in fact, gives us the light of Christ in a world of chaos, in the darkness of our dungeons and all that holds us prisoner. Baptism is a beautiful and powerful reminder that God brings life into the chaos of water and creates life, new life, from it.
Rowan Williams wrote in his book Being Christian: Eucharist, Prayer, Baptism:
Baptism does not afford us a special place, where the Baptized are “better” than others. Baptism actually brings us into the thick of the chaos, where we are called into life with God’s people who understand on some level that Christ has saved them and those who have no clue what that means yet…yet. Our Baptism, says Williams, creates this paradox in which we are at once driven into the very heart, mind, and Spirit of God’s blessedness and are, at the same time … like Christ after his baptism, driven out into the wilderness, out into the darkness, where God’s people are. So, we are not simply delivered from darkness into light we are, our Baptism tells us, delivered even in the darkness and Christ ministers to us, even in the most challenging parts of our lives. The mystery of Baptism is that in it, Christ stands with us in the midst of God’s incredible power and love and, at one and the same time, Jesus stands with us in the midst of life’s overwhelming pain and suffering.
Baptism is not just for our good, either. We are baptized individually into the life of Christ but we also become part of all those who have also been baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The glorious truth of our baptism is that it makes us siblings, yoked members of the same Body and, therefore, dependent upon each other and united to one another in the chaos of life, redeemed by God in Christ. When we renew our baptismal vows, as we will in a moment, or we witness the baptism of any man, woman or child, we reenter the muddy, chaotic waters of the world, where Christ is, and emerge as a new creation, ready for new relationship, new possibilities, in God’s already established kingdom. And to that, I think even Archie Bunker might say, Amen.