How many of you remember your baptism?
Was it a dunk or a sprinkle? Did you wear a white robe? Was it done in the river or in the church? Who was there? Was there a party afterward?
Now, I should remember my own baptism. I was six or seven. But to be honest with you, I don’t really. I know it was held after church, in the Presbyterian church in my hometown. And my mom and brother got baptized at the same time, too. And that’s just about it.
It’s a little disappointing, you know? I was hoping for something a little more dramatic a few weeks ago with my own son. But even then, I was more concentrated on keeping his little head above the water than any sort of mystical, spiritual experience.
Like many things in life, your baptism, that important moment—perhaps the most important moment—can seem like all build up and no pay off.
Some water, a candle, some oil, that’s it.
It couldn’t be any more different that day of creation—the day we hear about today in our first reading. The ancient Hebrew people envisioned the earth to be like a blank canvas, this expanse of water. It was the deep, the void. And God’s breath came over those waters like a gentle breeze or a mighty wind, and from the face of the water emerged everything—light and dark, night and day, earth and sky, people and animals. Quite a dramatic day.
And again, in our Gospel, we hear that same breath of God proclaiming Jesus to be the beloved Son. The sky cracks open and the Holy Spirit descends. This is Jesus’ entry into Mark’s story. Remember that Mark doesn’t have a Christmas story. There’s no build up at all. It begins with John and the river, and Jesus comes onto the scene to be baptized. He wades into the water, John takes him, lets him gently sink down until he is submerged. Perhaps holds him there for a few seconds, and Jesus pops up into the glorious light of heaven.
Now that’s a day to remember.
We are baptized in the church because Jesus was baptized, and Jesus tells us to be baptized. Now often, we treat baptism like something it’s not. For instance, baptism is not just a rite of passage for a baby—you don’t schedule a baptism like you would your 4 month vaccinations—it’s not like purchasing insurance to make sure that you or your loved one gets into heaven.
Baptism is a kick-off, and initiation, the beginning of a life much bigger than it was before. This is why Mark chose to start off the story with Jesus’ baptism. Because as soon as he emerged from the waters, he was thrust into a ministry, driven out into the world to heal and preach and proclaim God’s love. And when we are baptized, we follow Jesus’ footsteps.
When we are baptized, we leave behind our old lives and start something new. Everything that we carry, everything about our lives that’s less than human gets drown in those waters. And when we come up, we can breathe again.
But let’s be clear for a minute. It’s not all downhill after baptism. After all, even though God touched Jesus that day in the Jordan, even though God was well pleased with him, it did not spare him a life of rejection or a shameful death. Following in Jesus’ footsteps in baptism can be a prescription for that same rejection and death.
But in the face of this, we start something that is strange and beautiful. Our baptism touches everything in our lives, even the most simple and mundane.
I remember when I was being confirmed at that same Presbyterian church. The pastor asked us if we’d like to see where the holy water comes from. Now I had in my head some sort of vat, maybe a sapphire and ruby encrusted vat with water straight from the Holy Land. Or, I don’t know, some sort of special spring or fountain with this pristine, crystal clear water, hidden away in some secret corner of the church.
The pastor told us to follow him. And we walked into the fellowship hall, and into the kitchen, and he reached over and turned on the faucet. “This is our holy water,” he said.
All build-up and no pay off again. But now that I think about it, that’s even better than what I had imagined—because it meant that the holy, the sacred, are well within our reach. They lie hidden in plain sight in the most everyday things.
Tap water, cooking oil, paraffin candles.
What makes them holy is not that they come from any particular place, not that they’ve been preserved for generation, not that they’re rare or even particularly valuable. What makes them holy is the fact that God’s breath sweeps over the face of them.
God’s love and grace comes to us in the humdrum act of taking a bath. We receive our faith in the midst of everyday life, it does not take some extraordinary journey or trial by fire to achieve it.
So it’s okay if you don’t remember your baptism. It’s okay if that day doesn’t stand out as the day your life changed forever. God knows it, even if we don’t; God can see it, even if we can’t. And by living a life immersed in God’s love, by striving to uphold to the vows that we make at baptism, by following in the footsteps of our Savior, God is shaping our lives, joining us into all that is holy and sacred.
On the day of your baptism, wherever it was, however it was, God’s presence was there. And God’s presence is here. The heavens are opening up and the voice is saying, “These are my people, with whom I am well pleased.” Let us open ourselves to experience it.