Friday, January 24, 2014

The Baptism of Jesus

Just a few weeks ago, the church celebrated the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. This has always been a rather interesting celebration for me, because I’ve always thought, “Wait a minute. If Jesus was the Son of God, he didn’t need to get baptised. He was already without sin.” It didn’t seem to make sense to be “cleansed” of something that didn’t quite apply to you; sort of like preaching to the choir or bringing coals to Newcastle. But recently, I read a whole new perspective on this scriptural passage.

 “When we are baptised, we are plugged into waters that cleanse us from sin. When Christ came unto Jordan, He came sinless, but this time in the maturity of manhood, at a point at which His human will, identified with the will of God, made Him a self-offering; He brought Himself there to begin, to start the way to the Cross. Thousands were baptised in the Jordan, and each of them proclaimed his sins and these waters of Jordan were heavy with the murderous sins of men. Christ had no sin to proclaim and to confess, and when He entered into these waters of Jordan, He entered, to use an image of a contemporary divine, as one plunges, walks into a dye — He was dyed with the darkness of our sins. He came out of it carrying all the sins of the world. He came out of the waters of Jordan loaded with the condemnations that lay upon the world. And this is the time when He begins His ascent to the Cross.” (Anthony Bloom)

What an insightful and meaningful interpretation of this biblical event! Like the Gospel itself, it turns our previous interpretation of things on its head. The story is not about Jesus being cleansed from sin, but rather poignantly represents Jesus taking on the sins of others.

We are not unfamiliar with this sort of acceptance of the burdens of others, the sins of others, for the sake or for the good of those others. Parents know this all too well, as do good teachers and anyone in leadership positions. Lucy knew this “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.” And it’s found in good stories throughout history, from Brothers Karamazov, The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, and Nicholas Nickelby to Frodo and Katnis Everdeen and Avatar. One of our best human characteristics is drawn out in this capacity for sacrifice, for moving beyond self interest. Being in community leads us to want to trust in the goodness of others, despite their faults and foibles, or perhaps because of their faults and foibles. One way in which we address our own sins and limitations is by becoming ever more conscious of, and charitable towards, the sins and limitations of others, even to the point of absorbing their effects, embracing them within a larger perspective. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

The thing about Jesus is that his story is the real deal. The thing that all those other stories and experiences seek to draw out or express receive their light from the sun of Christ’s reality.  Just as new parents know within seconds of holding their first child in their arms that the world has radically, profoundly, irrevocably changed in ways they had always heard about but never really knew, so did the baptism and subsequent ascent to the Cross of Jesus radically, profoundly, and irrevocably change the relationship between Jesus and His father, between ourselves and God, in ways we might have heard about but don’t really fully know. When he emerged from that water in the Jordan, Jesus held us more closely than we can fully imagine. How we discover that reality in our lives remains a unique personal challenge and opportunity