Year B, Baptism of our Lord
Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector, St. Paul’s Brunswick
Does anyone else get the post holiday dul-drums? It happens to me every year. The decorations come down, the house feels strangely bigger, empty without them. I began to think about how many dark cold days we have stretching before us, then the mud season that seems to last longer each year. This year, all of this felt even bigger.
Then I started to look toward Epiphany and thought about the gift I am, each of us are, to Jesus. Warmed by this notion, I found the Spiritual strength to look with a glimmer of hesitant hope as to what would come next. Then… I remembered this day. The day we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. I started to recall my own baptism at eight years old. The longing I had to be baptized. The feeling of the water trickling down my head. The feeling in my little eight year old being that I was indeed was somehow different. I was connected, finally, to something that my soul hungered for.
I recall a seminary professor who would often remind us that when caught in the rain, when feeling our own tears roll down our cheeks… to remember our baptisms. I can still hear, “remember whose you are!” ringing off the walls of our classroom. I remember my first sermon I ever preached in Maine after seminary was on this very Sunday. And the most spectacular memory of a kiddo who was asperging his own family literally sloshing most of the water onto his family with glee. I can still see the shocked looks on their faces and the sheer joy of hearing the water splat on the tile floor.
But Today, especially after the insurgency at the Capitol this week, I recall my own DEEP love of the Baptismal Covenant. Remembering it is indeed a large part of how I feel called to live as a sibling in humanity, and how central it is to my call to the priesthood. The promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” are, for me, some of the most sacred words of our tradition. The promise that in community we will keep working together for justice. These words don’t promise us justice and peace, but the work of striving for them. Now, I am going to say that again… These words don’t promise us justice and peace, but the work of striving for them. They are words that carry perhaps one of the deepest universal truths… that authentic justice must be primary if we are truly to live the Golden Rule.
So how do we do this? How does the Baptism of our Lord speak to us after such an extreme week as citizens of this nation? Here in Mark we have John baptizing in the desert and Jesus coming to be baptized. Let us note that John and Jesus were extending the tradition of pairs, “Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Eisha, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Peter and Paul in Acts” (JANT, 58), and I’ll add Mary and Elizabeth. That part of our call is to walk together sharing in the Spirit. Part of the gift of this story is that, “Jesus did not receive the Spirit in order to enjoy privately its spiritual benefits, but rather in order to pass it on” (FOTW, 240).
Perhaps my favorite moment in this short passage of the Baptism of Jesus is the image of the “sky torn apart” and Jesus named as the beloved Son of God. Karl Barth suggests, “that God’s claiming of Jesus in this story summarizes the essence of the gospel: the astonishing claim that God does not will to remain hidden in the heights of the heavens but descends to the depths of earthly life in order to be seen and heard by us” (FOTW, 238). This is a fierce show of God’s love. God who sends down the Spirit on each of us just as God did Jesus. Another manifestation of incarnate love.
The image of the sky being torn apart struck me anew after the events of the week as we recall this moment at the start of Jesus’ journey, and the way it points to the end of his journey. The sky torn open points to the cross where later the centurion, a member of empire, repeats this phrase…naming Jesus as Son of God and, “(then) again a veil, that of the temple rather than the sky, is ripped and Jesus gives back to God the spirit that he had received” (FOTW, 238). I remember that centurion whose heart was changed and transformed and pray that may be so for the many people who violate justice on behalf of the evils of empire.
What does it mean to step forward and step into the promise of justice, peace and the claim of belovedness as Jesus did? And where do we go from here? It is said that C.S. Lewis once said that “for Christians the “spirit” is not lighter than matter, but heavier” (FOTW, 236). We feel the weight of how we are called to live differently in the world by way of the Spirit… and I know I especially felt that this week. One writer in commentaries notes that, “Christian pastoral care listens humbly to the needs and wishes of the other. But Christian pastoral care also gives the authority to proclaim- to announce reconciliation, to require fidelity, to demand justice” (FOTW, 240).
What happened this week in Washington as our elected officials did the work of democracy is wrong and grossly steeped in the very type of empire Jesus stood against. We are called to repent both as individuals and corporately as a nation, to turn to God and to claim belovedness. No matter whether you looked with grave disappointment or glee as the halls of our democracy were violated with Confederate and Nazi flags and gallows and a cross installed on the lawn… we must all take seriously and examine our call as the Baptized followers of The Way to speak up against injustice and find the bravery to do not just that, but to also remember that we are all beloved.
That Jesus being named as beloved is a reminder that each one of us are. And naming and calming that truth is part of the work of “strive(ing) for justice and peace among all people, and respect(ing) the dignity of every human being. Assata Shakur said, “We need to be weapons of mass construction, weapons of mass love. It’s not enough to change the system. We need to change ourselves.”
Friends, look to the heavens… the sky is torn apart… and YOU are the beloved. Jesus promised it would not be easy to follow him. And in his baptism he also promises us a life in community. That no matter what unfolds we know that in our Baptismal vows we have a clear way forward… we know the work we are called to. YOU… WE… are capable of striving for justice and peace while holding fast to the belovedness of us all. And we will… with God’s help.
I leave you with these words, also attributed to Assata Shakur, “I believe in living, I believe in birth, I believe in the sweat of love and in the fire of truth and I believe that a lost ship, steered by tired, seasick sailors, can still be guided home to port”.