So, this past Sunday we heard one of the accounts of Jesus’ baptism from the gospels, the episode as told by Luke. Baptism is one of the great hallmarks of Christianity and the Church, back to our earliest days. (Side note: if you feel like you need some exciting biblical exploration in your life, feel free to check out and compare the various versions of Jesus’ baptism across the gospels, Matt. 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, and John 1:29-34—although Jesus technically is not baptized in John’s gospel if you read the text closely enough.) But anyway, baptism.
What is this ritual thing we keep doing with water anyway, and why? Imagine you’d never heard of baptism before. Better yet, imagine that you’d never heard the Jesus story, that you’d never been exposed to the church. And then one day, you stumble across some folks in a river, who are being dunked beneath the water and then pulled up again by another person also in the water. Kind of an odd scene, isn’t it? I think sometimes it’s good for us to remember that faith can be a peculiar thing. In baptism, we declare the end of an old way of being, and the start of something new. It’s the laying down of an old creature, and the raising up of something born anew in God. In a nutshell, death and resurrection. In baptism, we Christians look the reality of darkness and death right in the face and say, “You are stripped of your power forever. God’s love has defeated you.” That’s not normal. Not one little bit. And it’s bold. Talk about some Sunday morning audacity. Baptism is a radical act.
In the gospels, Jesus’ baptism appears to function as a sort of reverse exorcism (but in a good way): The Holy Ghost comes upon him, God speaks, and the world changes. Jesus is spiritually activated, the Spirit drives him into the desert, and his ministry begins. So, in the moment of Jesus’ baptism, the lights all turn green, and the Jesus mission is a go. And throughout the centuries, Christians have kept practicing baptism as a signifier of God’s love, of transformation, and as an expression of the mystery of God’s grace. I wonder if we could also consider baptism in terms of a commission. When Jesus is baptized, the power of the Spirit propels him into action. Remembering that aspect of the story might help us in our responsibility to “live out our baptism,” as we were instructed this Sunday.