The Baptism of the Lord
January 13, 2013
Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church
Here it is the first Sunday after the fest of Epiphany and you might be a little bit surprised to see the wreath still up and the Poinsettias and decorations still here in the sanctuary. No, it is not an instance of forgetfulness or busyness in the past week that leaves all this still here. No, it’s just me. Although, much to Mary Ellen’s amusement, I have been known to keep Christmas trees up until the needles all fall off it isn’t a reluctance to let go of Christmas that leaves all this still here.
I recently learned that, similar to Christmas being a feast not of just one day but twelve, Epiphany used to be observed as an octave; that is a feast of eight days not just one day. So – liking the old thought that, like that of the Nativity, something as deep, as mysterious, as joyful as Epiphany – the revelation, the manifestation of God become human – cannot be contained or adequately celebrated by just one day…here we are. The decorations of our celebrations are still here. So, maybe, if we leave them up just a bit longer, they might serve as a reminder that in 12 days or even 20 we can’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is going on in Christmas and Epiphany and today’s feast.
Our celebration of Christmas and Epiphany, of incarnation and manifestation, can be something of a puzzle. Why does God become a human being? Why does God become a human being hidden in an obscure corner of both the world and history? Why does God become a human being hidden away only to finally be revealed, at least to those with eyes to see? These are puzzle enough but our celebration of them takes a peculiar turn today. As puzzling as Christmas and Epiphany might be now arrive at something even more puzzling. Today we hear about Jesus, the cousin of John the baptizer, being baptized by John in the Jordan.
You might recall that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. His was a baptism that said: “You have been headed the wrong way, you have been at odds with what is right and righteous, you have been an outlaw and on the run from God and God’s ways…but…you can chose to change, you can choose to change all of that. You can repent, you can turn around, you can turn it around, you can (as John put it) flee the wrath that surly follows.”
Now, if Jesus was God incarnate (and thus without sin) why would he be baptized at all much less why come to be baptized by John with this baptism?
As you might guess, there have been truly uncountable numbers of sermons given on the subject. Some have suggested that Jesus intended His baptism to be a sort of initiatory rite for His high priesthood, reflecting the ceremony which prepared the priests of the Temple for their ministry. Others suggest that Jesus wanted to identify Himself with the Gentiles, who were initiated into Judaism as proselytes by the act of baptism. Still others take Jesus’ baptism to be His recognition and endorsement of John’s authority, His accrediting of John as a true prophet of God and the genuine forerunner of His own ministry. A fourth view is that the Lord intended to be baptized vicariously for the sins of mankind, making His baptism, along with His atoning death on the cross, a part of His sin-bearing, redemptive work.
Ok, if any of those work for you, fine, you are in good, historic, orthodox company! (And here you thought you were a heretic!)
My personal thinking has led me to a slightly different take on it.
In Matthew’s look at this moment John basically asks the same questions we’re looking at here: “Why me? Why you? Why this? Why now?” Jesus’ reply is “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Keep in mind that all four gospels make some reference to Jesus and John’s relationship. And although the gospel of John is a bit coy in all four canonical gospels there is this encounter at the Jordan and somehow the complexity and completeness of Jesus’ identity is made known, made manifest…and I don’t mean just his divinity.
What I am walking us toward here is Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, the incarnate creative Word of God, inhabits not just human flesh but total and complete humanness. We’ve gott’a be clear, Jesus isn’t God in the machine. Jesus isn’t driving that human body born of Mary the way we might drive our cars. Yes, Jesus IS divinity incarnating in humanity – fair enough. But Jesus, just as importantly, is humanity, humanness, Enfleshing Divinity. And one of the great gifts and burdens of humanness is our ability, indeed our necessity, to choose.
Now each of us having been children know, and certainly our parents knew, the power of choice. Our parents also knew that their children’s happiness, health, and even our basic humanity depended on our learning that our power of choice serves us best when our choices serve some form of structure and order. Un-channeled choice or free- will is simply a formula for chaos. Those who have been raised without structure tend to not only be caught in chaos but also tend to lack a healthy sense of limits, of boundaries and, too often, even empathy. This is a truncation of their self, their personhood, and denies them realization of a portion of their full humanity, their true and full humanness.
I think what is going on here at the Jordan is Jesus inhabiting even this element of our basic nature. It is as if he is telling John, “We’re going to do this. I have to choose – even this – like everyone else has to choose. I choose to let my power of choice to be channeled into what is right – what is righteous. I choose to let my power of choice be set in service to something I don’t have complete power to define, direct, or dictate. This moment is caught up in God’s way and, I like everyone else, must choose…which is it going to be? Is it going to be my way or God’s way?”
This moment at the Jordan, I think, is very much of a piece with that heart rending moment in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus chooses to let his full humanity be put in service to God. He surrenders our very real human desire to be the director of the play, to exercise control, to relate to the world as if I am its only subject and everything and everyone else are objects for my whimsy and use. But just as importantly Jesus is allowing his humanness to flower, to be fully expressive as well as expressed within its very real and very finite limits. By choosing to live the human reality of being finite instead of living the human illusion of limitlessness and unlimited control Jesus embodies our true, if ephemeral, beauty, our true humanness, our God given humanity fully alive.
Three years ago author Barry Lopez was interviewed by Bill Moyers in his last edition of Bill Moyers’ Journal. There came a moment when Lopez offered an observation about our desire to live in the illusion of control. He said that our civilization in the West has “created something in which we have excluded from our moral universe everything but us.” He then went on to talk about the real work that underlies environmental and humanitarian efforts. He said:
“What we're trying to do now is to wake up to what humanity has known for longer than 10 thousand years,…you can't direct the play. The play is not directable. You must participate in the play. You must get out of the director's chair of telling everybody what to do and how to behave and who can be on stage. You must put all that aside and step onto the stage with other men and women and say: “We're in this together.” And we need to find an arrangement…in order to take care of each other. But we can't exclude. We can't make nature the banished relative, [nor any] part of the human family.” (Bill Moyers Journal, 4/30/10)
When I look at people flocking to gun stores and gun shows after Aurora or Sandy Hook, when I look at Aurora, or Sandy Hook, or 9/11, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Rwanda, or Auschwitz, or Pearl Harbor, or when I see children abused, or when I see limitless environmental destruction for profit, when I see exclusion and discrimination what I see is what Jesus surrendered in the incarnation, surrendered there at the Jordan, surrendered there in the Garden, and even on the cross. I see all of these as expressions of the tragedy of our choosing the illusion that we can, and indeed must direct the play because we, rightfully, are the center of our self-defined moral universe.
Jesus, in the incarnation, God, in the incarnation, I think is saying not even God wants to be the center of the universe alone. I think God, In Jesus, chooses to step onto the stage with us to say “We are all in this together.” so as to enable us to say “Yes! We are all in this together!”
God, in Jesus, comes to us as one of us. God blesses (and if you will) is blessed by the limits of human enfleshment and offers us an epiphany. God makes manifest our true nature, our true worth as finite human beings, yet children of God who are sisters and brothers of Christ.
Today, in the last of the celebrations of the season, the celebration of Jesus’ Baptism, this is what we celebrate: that God came and embraced and blessed all that it means to be human and in Jesus made manifest, in Jesus showed us the true beauty of being fully human within the limits of being fully human. God embraces and loves us in both what we are and what we are not as human beings. And, surly, that is something to celebrate! But, along with that the message of today is that God is waiting for us, you and me, to choose to love our humanity, our humanness, in and through ourselves and one another as much as God does.
It’s about time, don’t you think?
Rev. M. Paul Garrett
REMEMBERING THE SONGS OF HEAVEN; MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF THE WORLD
October 21, 2012
“I think we know what a tree dreams – because at night we sleep next to a tree and it is like two thoughts together.” Name the author: Walt Whitman? Robert Frost? Gary Snyder? John Muir? Well, that’s not a fair question. The author was a boy age eight by the name of Case. His quote is on the front page of the website of The Touchstone Center in New York City, whose founder Richard Lewis, has dedicated 43 years of his life to foster the natural creative and artistic sensibilities of children. Some time ago he wrote an article for the publication “Parabola” entitled “The First Question of All” about the children’s question “Why?” (Parabola, Vol 13:3, Fall ’88)
We’ve all played the game of “Why?” as a child and with a child. The child asks why? And from the adult side we make the answer “Because…” with as accurate an explanation as we can muster. Then, from the child side we ask “Why?” yet again.
A child’s “Why?” for Lewis, isn’t so much about the child’s curiosity as it is about the nagging sense that for everything there is a reason – a real reason that brought anything, everything and each thing in to being in the first place. If it snowed, why did it snow; and if it snowed because it was cold and moist, then why was it cold and moist? – and so on. As my friend and mentor, Bishop Mary Glasspool, who acquainted me with Lewis’ work, once put it: “Somewhere in childhood root-digging emerges we scratch our way up from various unknowns into the surface world of facts and reasonableness only to dig back down in order to find out what was below those facts, what startling amount of ground and mud and water and darkness and heat held things together. As children, we felt related and connected to everything around us – the summer day was not just an objective environmental fact, but somehow, we were that summer day.”
Lewis related asking a group of seven and eight year-olds a series of questions about the sky, not unlike some of the questions they might have asked themselves.
How heavy is the sky? It is heavier than a little kid. How far is the sky? It is farther than India, Africa and the North Pole. What does the sky feel like? Cotton, pillows, and softness. How would you get to the sun? You would tippy toe. What does the sky sound like? It sounds like a bird whistling. It sounds like an ocean. It sounds like popping. How big is the sky? It’s bigger than a planet. It is a million inches long.
The children’s answers, like the questions themselves, tug at the boundaries of reality so that what we can “know” is rife with undiscovered dimensions of possibility. Children play the “Why” game quite seriously and their answers are both serious and simultaneously playful and skip from one point of view of reality to another in the span of a breath. Lewis concluded that much of the impulse of children to play with these kinds of questions comes from a tantalizing feeling children possess that in truth reality is richer and deeper than we might otherwise sense. For children, trees really do dream!
Hopefully every week but especially next week we are going to plunge into that truth – that reality is richer and deeper than we might usually sense. We are going to do this by baptizing young Riley White. In looking forward to that we might go ahead and play the “Why?” game and ask “Why do we baptize?”
But before we go there I want to share with you a poem by the 19th century Russian poet – Mikhail Lermentov.
At midnight an angel was crossing the sky,
And quietly he sang;
The moon and the stars and the crowd of clouds
Listened, enthralled by his heavenly song.
He sang of the bliss of innocent souls
In heavenly gardens above;
Of almighty God he sang out, in unfeigned praise
pure and sincere.
Embraced in his arms a young soul he bore
To our world of sadness and tears;
The young soul remembered the heavenly song
Wordless and yet all so alive
And long did it struggle on earth,
With wondrous longing imbued;
And the songs of heaven could not be replaced
By the tedious songs of our earth
I love the idea, and agree with Lewis that each of us, children especially, are embedded with a longing for the deep truth that lies at the heart of reality. And I love the idea and agree with Lermontov that that longing is actually a longing rooted in a memory of deep relationship with the divine.
So why do we baptize? We baptize because we are a community that recognizes, in and through Christ, that the truth at the heart of reality, the truth our hearts long for, is the divine.
To put it another way we baptize children to help them to remember to hear the songs of heaven; the songs of that unfiltered, unmediated relationship with the divine they carry with them into this world.
Let’s take the game to the next level!
Why baptize to remember the songs of heaven? Because, as Lermontov puts it (and as we well know), all too often this is a world of sadness and tears. This is a world that no child should have to face without being given the opportunity to both find their own inner spiritual strength and share in the spiritual strength of a community grounded in the faith and love of Christ.
You might know the story of Ruby Bridges. She was one among a handful of children chosen in 1960 to begin the desegregation of public schools in New Orleans. She ended up being the only child assigned to the William Frantz grade school. She had to march under police escort day after day through howling, threatening mobs of white adults. She ended up being the only pupil in school for a year as the whites wouldn’t let their children attend as long as a black child was in the school.
Psychiatrist Robert Coles volunteered to work with Ruby and other children to perhaps help them cope with this daily trauma. In talking with Ruby he was surprised to learn that as she stepped through the crowd and the cloud of hate that stood between her and the school house door she was praying for the people screaming at her. She was surprised at Cole’s surprise. And said in effect: “Don’t you think they need praying for?”
She found her strength and her insight because she was embedded in a community and a family of faith. She survived because she was given the gift, if you will, of remembering the songs of heaven and knowing as long as we pay attention they can never be replaced or truly overcome by the tedious or even hate filled songs of this world. That was a tremendous gift – a life saving, sanity saving, soul saving gift. And that is just part of the gift given in baptism!
Fostering that gift isn’t something parents can do on their own. You know it takes a consistently gathering community of faith to most effectively pass that gift on to our children. Indeed parents, often as much as their children, need the strength of the community gathered in Christ to help them remember the songs of heaven if they are to help their children to continue to hear those songs and help their children find their inner spiritual strength and remember where their true identity and true worth are to be found. That is why it is so important that we simply commit as individuals, as families, and as a community to gather week after week here in this place.
So, one last “Why?”
Why gather here? Because we can’t know all the challenges we or our children are going to encounter in the course of life. But we know – big and small – those challenges are going to come and we can prepare ourselves, help each other to prepare, and help our children to prepare to meet those challenges as true children of God. And the simplest way we can do that is to just show up, sing the songs of heaven together, and remind ourselves that reality – the reality of God’s grace and Christ’s love – really is deeper and richer than the world might lead us or even want us to suspect.
Rev. M. Paul Garrett
St. Barnabas, Denver
After the Shootings
In the wake of such immediate tragedy it is sometimes hard to know what to do. All parents but especially parents with young children may feel overwhelmed in trying to figure out how to process this with their children. I think first the natural instinctive thing is absolutely right. Come together as a family. Just spend some quiet time cuddling and giving reassurance that the love the family shares is as strong as ever. As followers of Christ sharing some prayer time -- praying for the best for everyone whose lives are affected by the tragedy is deeply important. Letting children voice their own prayers is a way for them to grow spiritually but also may help parents know what the child needs and needs to share. Children seeing/hearing their parents pray can help them to feel more centered in God’s love themselves.
Simple love, simple honesty about the emotional impact, simple prayer can go a long way to helping families to cope and grow in faith in moments like these. Finally here is some good advice from Families for Depression Awareness.
AFTER MAJOR TRAGEDIES
Tragedies like suicides or school shootings leave us all feeling shocked, fearful, and helpless. Many families are grieving the sudden death of their loved ones. This tragedy forces families to come together and cope.
In all tragedies, families deal with immense and unexpected grief, loss, and uncertainty about the future.
It is important for families to help one another after a tragedy by talking, listening, and expressing their feelings and concerns. Feeling down and grieving are normal reactions to loss. However, sometimes tragic events can trigger a more serious depression, often as soon as 6 to 8 weeks after the loss has occurred. So, it is important for families to understand the symptoms of depression and how to help someone who is depressed.
Below are some of our suggestions from Families for Depression Awareness, (http://www.familyaware.org/top-depression/coping-after-a-tragedy.html) for families to help one another through tragedy. Online are links to information on post-traumatic stress disorder and talking to children.
What families can do
• Acknowledge and share your feelings. After a tragic event, you may have feelings of shock, denial, and intense sadness. Later, you may feel anger, resentment, irritation, and grief. These emotions can fluctuate rapidly. Strong reactions to a tragedy are to be expected and vary greatly among people. Even within a family, reactions and emotions to a crisis can differ and change over time. Talk about the fears and emotions that you have openly. It is important to be supportive of one another even if your reactions are different.
• Be supportive and listen. Let your family and children know that you care and are there for them. Be an 'active listener' by listening empathetically and without judgment. Allow your family to talk, while you remain silent, nodding and maintaining eye contact to show that you're listening. Summarize parts of what has been said to show you understand, and allow the person to express emotion. Be careful NOT to minimize what has happened by saying things like 'things could have been much worse', 'we are all upset, you need to stop dwelling on it and continue on with your life.'
• Expand your support system. Many families find it helpful to reach out to others in their community, such as a church or support group, to help cope with their feelings and reduce the isolation. Families need extensive and unconditional support in the wake of a tragedy.
• Ask for help. Let your family know that they can tell you when they need help. Be available and ready to listen when asked. Remember that mental health professionals, including social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, are there for you if you need help processing your feelings.
• Understand your own limits. Recognize that you will not have unlimited ability to help and take care of others. You need to take care of yourself as well. It is OK and advisable to reach out to friends and medical professionals to get through tough times.
• Keep your schedule. Although you may feel helpless, it is important to keep your daily routine and get lots of sleep and exercise. If depression or other menatla of physical illness is a current condition stay on your medications. You need to stay healthy to counter the stress of a crisis.
• Plan family time. Set aside time to talk and be with your family. You can also plan activities such as dinners, walks, volunteering, and spiritual events to come together and experience some positive time together after a terrible hardship.
• Be aware of disorders. Stressful events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see below) and can trigger a serious depression weeks or months afterward. Be aware of the symptoms of these disorders and get help from your doctor or mental health professional.
• When to seek immediate help. If at any time a family member or friend becomes depressed or talks about death or suicide, seek immediate help. Contact your doctor, go to your local emergency room, or call 1-800-suicide.
How to help your children
• The National Institute of Mental Health has a comprehensive guide to Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters.
• The US Department of Health and Human Services published tips on how to help children after a disaster.
• About our Kids provides info on how to talk to your children.
You can find active links for each of these at: Families for Depression Awareness, http://www.familyaware.org/top-depression/coping-after-a-tragedy.html
Our Summer Question
8th Sunday After Pentecost
Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Last Sunday, the 15th, was the Ides of July. We have passed the midpoint in the trinity of summer months. For some of us, many of us, maybe most of us the summer really hasn’t anything to distinguish itself from the other three seasons except perhaps the heat. Work is just as demanding, kid’s schedules are just as full, bill’s keep coming whether we’re fully employed or not, retirement doesn’t feel different in the summer than in the winter. Yet we all hear the summer question: are you getting some time away? Time away to the mountains, the shore, to family reunions, to places near or far away…are you getting some time away?
Looking at the gospel this week I can hear every sermon I’ve ever preached or heard on it. Jesus, in the midst of the need and swirling chaos around him and his disciples seems to be grasping after what we think of as the answer to our summer question. That he doesn’t succeed in getting away only seems to underscore the importance of the need to get away, take some down time to rest, refresh, recharge.
But then the passage from Paul’s letter caught my eye. He’s talking primarily to Greek’s, to non-Jews, but to fellow Jews as well. He speaks of Christ as the great reconciler the one who welcomes us home together both those who are--who have been -- far away and those who were always homebodies.
As we just heard Paul writes: “…he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
Christ, yes in the work of the cross, the tomb and the resurrection, brings unity out of division but even before that in his teaching and in that band of people who followed when he called he was trying to get across -- to them and to us -- that we are meant to be one body, one family, with one home!
“So he came”, as Paul puts it, “and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”
And it was then, reading that and thinking about the gospel that I realized I have had it backward all these years. Christ wasn’t trying to get away! He wasn’t trying to take himself and his disciples away from the need and the chaos swirling around them. No. He was trying to take them back with him, back to the place of oneness and unity that he has known from the beginning of everything. He was trying to show the disciples (and us) the source of everything he was and was doing, the source of everything he had just sent them out to do and welcomed them back from, is home. The source of Christ’s being is God, the household of God where peace is and the Spirit gives us all we need. Jesus wasn’t trying to exercise an answer to our summer question “are you getting some time away?” No. He was trying to get some time at home with his disciples, with his Father, with the Spirit and with us.
So, paradoxically, for us, the church, our summer question isn’t “are you getting some time away?” but rather, “are you getting some time at home?”
You who have been consumed by the business and busyness of the world, you who have been or are far away Christ calls you to come back to be at home with him in the household of God.
How do we do that? How do we take some time at home when the world and need and the swirl of chaos draw us so far and distractedly away?
Well, the good news is that there are many who have gone before us who have left us maps or the GPS waypoints of any number of paths that we might take to get us back home. One such is St Benedict. A few folk here are quite familiar with the guidance he has offered monastic’s and other seeker’s along a path home for almost 15 centuries. Recently, in a sermon blog, Br. David Vryhof of the Society of Saint Jon the Evangelist reminds that the path Benedict offers is available to anyone not just saints or monks. Br. David offered three of Benedict’s waypoints along the path home:
1. Listen. Listen to the voice of God, listen to the counsel of your elders, listen to the truth that has been discovered in ages past, listen to the authentic and life-giving voice within yourself. Listening is the key to spiritual growth. Learn to listen and you will find yourself well along the path.
2. Live a balanced life, with prayer at its center. Work diligently, as if serving God. Read, study and learn. Make God the chief desire of your heart, your heart’s deepest longing. Center yourself in the divine life, and you are halfway home.
3. Learn to live well with others in the Spirit of Christ. Human beings are meant to live in community, to share and grow together, to love and be loved, to give and to receive, to forgive and to be forgiven. Practice humility. Do not count yourself better than others, but have a humble opinion of yourself and learn to serve.
When you have followed the path these three waypoints blaze you will find you are home. And don’t forget when you are at home practice hospitality. Welcome others home as you are welcomed home by Christ. (see: www.ssje.org sermon for July 11, 2012)
In the Gospel of John Jesus says “In my father’s home there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you and will come and take you to be at home with me. You know the way home...I am the way home.”
It is in the simple acts of listening, of living a prayerfully balanced life, of living with others in the Spirit of Christ that we find our way home, find ourselves back home with Christ, with each other, with the Spirit, with God.
So, are you getting some time at home this summer?
It is Just the Beginning Easter, April 8, 2012
Mark 16 -- Jesus Has Risen 1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
This passage from Mark begins with an ending and ends with a beginning. The Sabbath has ended and the women have gone to the tomb for one final, sad, encounter intending a last token of loving service to their dead teacher, their dead hope. What they find is, in understatement, unexpected. In Mark’s Greek the moment seizes them not simply with the shakes at something amazingly unexpected but seizes them with tromos and ecstasis. Literally they are both Traumatized by what they encounter and are left Ecstatic. Then there silence. This is where Mark’s story, Mark’s account originally ended. But that ending is actually a beginning. For these events not only powerfully shook the women’s understanding of life and death, shook their understanding of who and what their teacher really is but shook their understanding of who and what they are because of what they have encountered at the tomb. In that moment of ending they begin to understand who and what they are with Jesus...beloved children of God.
It is Easter and we’ve come together to celebrate the resurrection. And if we aren’t, along with the women at the tomb, Traumatized and Ecstatic we are might just be missing the point of our celebration.
Why were they Traumatized? Yes, that the body they expected to find is gone is certainly traumatic but the deeper sense of the word is that of being wounded, injured.
The words of the young man “He is risen, he is not here...” inflict a certain level of violence on their expectation of how the world works and why it works the way it does. To them dead has always meant just that – dead. When someone has died they are dead and there is no coming back or going on from that. Why?…well that is just how the world works. That is the lesson every human has experienced since the beginning…or at least if there have been resurrections they have only come at the hands of a miracle worker like when Jesus raised the daughter of Jarius.
But, now in the power of the young man’s words spoken in that empty tomb that understanding is shattered. Their understanding of how the world operates takes a deep and lasting wound. “He is risen, he is not here…” And so, with those words and the evidence of their eyes they tremble in amazement that what Jesus had said about himself is true: ‘Death would come but death would not be the end’.
Till that moment death has been the evidence that the world is basically an uncaring place. We come alone into the world and we go from it alone and the world moves on without even a shrug. But in that moment in that empty tomb that understanding is dealt, if you will, a fatal wound.
Why were they Ecstatic (literally beside themselves at what they have experienced)? It must have hit them like a ten pound sledge hammer: everything Jesus had said about the words of the prophets about the care, the concern, the love of God for what God has created both in the world and in the people is true! They are not alone – we are not alone. They are beloved – we are beloved. And God is not content that anyone should live as if death must have the last word! Not even violent death inflicted with all the cruelty that jealousy and empire can engineer has the last word. “He is risen, he is not here…” No wonder Mark says they were afraid to speak. How do you speak of the world being turned upside down and inside out without sounding insane? How do you speak the inarticulate understanding that dawns that death is not the terminus, that there is a future and that Jesus’ resurrection gives us the freedom to live into that future of a superabundance of God’s love that the world cannot defeat and the grave does not end?
If you remember the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan you remember that after this total immersion into the human condition, God says, “This is good. This is delightful. This is the Beloved, who beings me great pleasure. This is very, very good.” I can’t help but think, in a paradox so much deeper than tragedy, that those words were the words that rang the stone away from the tomb. Jesus’ absolute faith, in walking the path that those words would always be true, was vindicated by the resurrection. I can’t help but think the words that rang out at his baptism still echoed in the resurrection!
In just a few moments we will be baptizing two young children. And when we do the words God spoke at Jesus’ own baptism will include Ryan and Scarlett just as they have included each one of us.
“This is good. This is delightful. This is the Beloved, who beings me great pleasure. This is very, very good.” So it is with each one of us when we are born and when we are baptized. We too are blessed as the Beloved. We too bring pleasure to God.
The Greek word for baptism means: “To dip, to immerse, to submerge — and my favorite — to saturate.” Baptism is, for all of us the bath of the Beloved, when God takes pleasure in saturating us — saturating us with water, saturating us with grace, saturating us with blessing. When I read about Jesus’ baptism, what I understand is happening is very different than what traditional doctrines have explained. Rather than saving us from original sin, Jesus’ baptism mirrors for us our original blessing — encouraging us to become servants of love — servants given the freedom to offer blessing and not judgment to others because in our baptism we are raised with Christ into the unlimited future that the risen Christ promises not even death can destroy or conquer.
To close I want to share with you a little story that preacher and author, Barbara Brown Taylor, tells about her Grandmother Lucy. Lucy was a very strange looking woman. She had lost both her legs to diabetes and had wooden stumps where limbs should be. Her weak eyes demanded that she wear dark glasses. Most of the time, she looked like a disabled bomber pilot. But to her granddaughters, she was wonderful. Whenever Barbara would visit her grandmother, grace would abound. In the closet would be wrapped packages enough for a surprise each day of the visit. The meals were delicious always with a favorite dessert. Then there were the shopping trips to buy dresses and crinolines and new hair bows. But, the best part of these visits were the baths. Each night Grandma Lucy would draw a hot bath filled with suds, and with her big sponge she would polish Barbara's skin. Then, following the bath she would anoint her granddaughter's body with Jergen's lotion all the way down to the souls of her feet. The perfect ending would be the Evening in Paris dusting powder when Lucy would tickle Barbara's body with a pale blue powder puff. Barbara writes: "When Grandma Lucy was done, I knew that I was precious. I was absolutely convinced that I was loved and nothing has happened since to shake that conviction (The Preaching Life, p. 17).
Jesus, the Christ is risen! And in his rising and in our baptism we are told in no uncertain terms that we each are precious, that we each are beloved children of God…and that is just the beginning of the story! Amen.