Baptism of Christ – 2016
“The life of Jesus is the place in history fitted by God for propitiation,
and fraught with eternity” Karl Barth – Romerbrief
Last week we spent a little time considering carols. Those which I suggested were the product of the ‘Modern’ mind – carols which ‘told the “facts” of the story of Christmas’ – carols which suggested that they told us the “Truth” about Christmas, or better perhaps based on the assumption that ‘the bare facts reveal the Truth. And ‘Pre-Modern’ carols – carols which too our mind perhaps are less helpful for telling the story, carols like the Holly and the Ivy. Which work with metaphor – causing us to think and hopefully see deeper – and to Pray and to Worship
Now as I said, ‘Modern’ and ‘Pre-Modern’ aren’t referring necessarily to periods in history. Some ‘Modern’ carols go way back . . . A few ‘Pre-Modern’ carols, a very few it must be said, are quite contemporary, because ‘Modern’ and ‘Pre-Modern’ here are lenses through which we view reality . . . we are always looking at what we see through a lens of interpretation, and ‘Modern’ and ‘Pre-Modern’ are two, very different lenses. Lenses which cannot be easily interchanged. Rather like two different languages, for after all languages are particular cultural interpretations of reality – and the problem is that when we ask a question in one language, we get an answer which may well make no sense to us in our language. (This is even more difficult when we assume that because we use the same words we mean the same thing – but referring a particular word to a particular thing is a profoundly modern blindness) Take for example the ‘Pre-Modern’ carol, The Holly and the Ivy. What do berry and blood refer to in the carol?? (A ‘Modern’ question)
The person who sees the world through the glasses of modernity may ask “When the carol mentions the holly berry, as red as any blood? are we supposed to think of the holy berry, or of the blood of Jesus?” And the pre-Modern person will answer, infuriatingly for us, “Yes” . . . “So both the berry and the blood?” “No!” “Then which, the berry or the blood?” “Yes” . . .
As I said last time, ‘Modern’ thought sees things in distinction from one another – this is this and that is that . . . they do not ‘participate’ in one another, as if somehow the redness of the berry in some sense more than a ‘bare memorial’ made the blood of Jesus present in Creation . . . Put another way, the ‘Pre-Modern’ glasses were sacramental – they saw the things of Earth and the things of heaven somehow woven together, like for example a Christmas tartan. ‘Is it red, or is it green?’ “Yes” 🙂
Well, today is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus and when we declare our faith using the words of the Nicene Creed we declare ‘We believe in One baptism for the forgiveness of sins’. Now I am pretty sure that when we say these words, this One Baptism, what comes to mind for most if not all of us, certainly for me, is our own baptism. That this refers to our baptismS . . . but note how our minds take that which is One and turn it into many – separating out your baptism, and my baptism, and yours and yours and yours . . . each we treat as if it were a discrete ‘historic’ event, in my case at the parish Church of St Michael’s, Stanwix, Carlisle, in 1962 on April 1st . . . I know the date and place of My baptism . . . or do I? We are perhaps too quick, too Modern to assume that the One baptism for the forgiveness of sins refers to mine, and yours and yours and yours . . .
There are many many arguments over baptism . . . can you baptise an infant? Should baptism be by sprinkling or immersion? How many godparents? Can it take place outside of a public service of worship. These disputes have raged more or less dramatically in the ‘Modern’ era, not least the rise of the ‘Anabaptists’ whom all ‘good’ protestants declared Heretics! Why well the word anabaptist was a slur and meant ‘Rebaptiser!!’ and of course there is only One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, ‘you and you and you and you and you – can only be baptised once’
. . . and in all these things we speak as if the Incarnation has never happened, as if the Word does not become flesh and resides amongst us, as if heaven and earth were not woven together in Christ Jesus to the Glory of God, as if the Baptism of Jesus was something other . . . as if this was this and that was that and we’re arguing about THAT!! Not the Baptism of Jesus . . . When we say ‘we believe in One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins’, are we talking about our Baptism or the Baptism of Jesus . . . and the answer comes to us . . . “Yes”
When we share in the Lord’s supper, St Paul reminds us, we are Participating in the body and blood of Jesus . . . when we are baptised, we are participating in the Baptism of Jesus. That is why there is nothing wrong in talking about ‘our’ baptismS when we re-member the Baptism of Jesus, for as we remembered last week – we cannot – indeed must not imagine the wife without the husband and vice versa, two woven into one, how much less can we talk of our baptism apart from the Baptism of Jesus.
Listen carefully to the words of the Gospel of Jesus again Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized . . . and [Jesus] was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ ‘Heaven opened’, like the rending of the curtain in the Temple, is the breaking in of the eternal into the Temporal. We are at once seeing things heavenly – the eternal Love of the Father for His only begotten Son – but this is not just a matter of heaven. It is heaven woven together with earth – where?? In Jesus!! It is the Culmination of History. Jesus Baptism – everything about him is not ‘just another discrete event in history’, it is its fulfilment. Heaven woven together with Earth . . . the Great YES. The YES of the Father . . .
In the man, Jesus, in his birth, in his life at Nazareth, in his death upon the cross, in his resurrection and his ascension, and in his Baptism, God takes hold of humanity and says YES – our baptism is our participation in that Yes, our rejoicing in that Yes, our re-echoing that Yes. To the Glory of god the Father. Amen
We cannot speak of one Baptism apart from the Baptism of Jesus without the other, for heaven is opened, the eternal is woven into the temporal, the mortal is dressed in immortality in Jesus, HIs Baptism For US.