WALK TO JERUSALEM: From the Water

The Jordan River,
Yardenit Baptism site, near the Lake of Galilee, Israel
Taken February, 2010

Scripture Text:  Matthew 3: 13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The reading begins simply: “Then…” It is such a common connector, that we probably sort of gloss over it. But look a little more closely. It wasn’t just the thirty years that Jesus had waited to commit to public ministry. It was the centuries upon centuries and ages upon ages that all of Creation had waited for the dawn to break. In essence, from that very moment when we are told in the first chapter of Genesis that God’s Spirit swept over the face of the waters, Creation has been groaning and straining for this very moment, the very moment when life would emerge from the water.

Thirty years was, in fact, the traditional time that a rabbi waited to be committed to God. In those thirty years, Jesus would have been caring for his mother, and making a living, and preparing himself for ministry. I don’t really think that, contrary to what some may say, Jesus was confused about these roles. He was always serving God. But now…then…the time had come. And as eternity dawns, Jesus is ready to begin. And so he goes to John at the Jordan to be baptized and for a very short amount of time was then actually a disciple, a follower, of John’s.  And, from the water, the work has begun.  From the water, the heavens are opened and the Spirit emerges. And we hear what all the world has always been straining to hear: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Even though the writer of the Gospel has presented Jesus as the Son of God in the birth story, it is not until this moment that the title is actually conferred. From the water, comes Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer of all of Creation.  From the water, comes a new Spirit. From the water, comes life.

What is it about the water in the River Jordan that so fascinates us? It’s wet and its cold—it’s just like any other water—and yet for more than 2,000 years, we have been captivated by it. When I had the opportunity to go to Israel last February, I, like most Holy Land tourists, could not wait to touch the water in the Jordan River. When that day that had the Jordan River on our itinerary arrived, I was so looking forward to it. This would be the place…this would be the place where I would connect with Jesus Christ.  Well, at the risk of bursting your idyllic Jordan River bubble, I was really disappointed. I imagined a calm and contemplative place on a quiet and peaceful river where I could have a high spiritual moment. Instead, I got Disneyland. The truth is, they have recently moved the place commemorating where Jesus was baptized (yes…I thought that was a little odd too!  The truth is, there are many views of where Jesus’ baptism took place and this one is probably the safest!) and have built a large, modern complex with a huge gift shop where busloads of people buy white robes tastefully monogrammed with the Jordan River Corporation logo so that they can get into the water and be baptized (again and again and again…). But we paid our money and went through the turnstiles and made our way to a place on the river. I hated the noise; I hated the crowds; but the river was beautiful. Somewhere in its depths, there WAS a peace, a calm, a contemplative, spiritual moment of peace. We found a place and had a short service renewing our Baptism. (And in the process had some people get upset with us because we were apparently taking prime real estate and never intending to be “really” baptized. Those [already-baptized] Methodists just always get in the way, don’t they?) And then, one by one, we walked down to the river, placed our hand in the water, and touched our forehead, reminding ourselves that we are Beloved, a son or daughter of God with whom God is well pleased. And in some way from the water, I did have a moment. In the midst of the yelling and the crowds, and the cold, modern structures, I felt the water and I felt Christ.  From the water comes life.

The truth is, there is nothing special about the water in the Jordan. There is nothing special about our own baptismal water.The truth is, when I fill the baptismal font, I usually get the water out of the second floor ladies bathroom.  (At any point in time, Creation lends water both to the Jordan and the sink in the ladies restroom at St. Paul’s!  It’s all the same!)  It’s just ordinary water. But something happens. From the water, comes life. As in the beginning of Creation, God’s Spirit once again sweeps over the waters. And from the water, our life comes. But it is up to us to do something with it. The waters are not made holy because Jesus was baptized in them; they are not made sacred because we clergy stand up there and bless them; the thing that makes them so incredible, so of God, so filled with life, is that from the water emerges the one that we are called to be, the son or daughter of God with whom God is well pleased.

In this Lenten journey, we are once again called to remember our baptism, to remember what gives us life.  Because, you see, that is the way to Jerusalem…

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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