I remember someone saying to me many years ago, “I’ve had a bad decade. There are things I wish I could re-do. I’d make different choices. So many words I wish I hadn’t said. Relationships that I’d do differently.” It probably doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know what he means. It may not have been a decade but I suspect all of us have had a day, a week, or a season in our life that we would like to re-do. We want a do-over, a second chance, a mulligan. “Into what then were you baptized?”
Have you ever felt your life paralyzed by fear? Sometimes you know what it’s about other times you may not. You just know you’re scared and you feel stuck. “Into what then were you baptized?”
Violence and death fill our news headlines, the Charlie Hebdo massacre being one of the most recent. It’s a new event that in many ways is not at all new. Some will declare it a Muslim issue and react with more hatred, prejudice, or violence. Others will feel helpless and hopeless. “Into what then were you baptized?”
Do you ever feel as if you are always trying to prove yourself? To be enough? To gain approval, acceptance, or love? Do you feel as if your life’s effort has become just another self-improvement program? “Into what then were you baptized?”
Most of us could tell about times when life was dry, arid, and dehydrated. Joy was absent and meaning lost. Isolation replaced community and escape offered the illusion of survival. “Into what then were you baptized?”
I’ve known times and I suspect you have as well when past choices, actions, and relationships kept me begging, “Please God, please, please, please forgive me.” Never mind that confession had been made and absolution given, the burden was still being carried, the guilt was still imprisoning, and the mantra continued. “Into what then were you baptized?”
All the examples I’ve given above and all the many others you could name about you life and yourself are invitations to return to our baptismal waters. Our baptismal waters may not undo the past or change the world’s circumstances but they do change us. They return us to that “first day,” (Genesis 1:1-5) the day we became a new creation, the day the Spirit of God hovered over us, the day light was called out of darkness. This first day is always a day of creation and new life. It was on the first day, remember, that the stone was rolled away from the tomb and the angel proclaimed, “He is risen.” (Mark 16:1-8)
“Into what then were you baptized?” (Acts 19:1-7) That’s St. Paul’s question to each of us. How often do we recall our baptism? What difference does it make or is it making in your life today? How often do we return to the water of our baptism? Baptism isn’t just for babies or newcomers to the church. Though we may ritually or liturgically be baptized only once baptism isn’t a one time event in our lives. Our baptismal waters are as real, deep, wet, and powerful today as they were on the day of our baptism.
Your baptism, however, did not make you good. It did not make you acceptable to God. It did not cause God to love you. It revealed those to already be the truth. It revealed that God sees you and knows you. It revealed that your life matters. Isn’t that what we see and hear today on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus?
St. Mark places the baptism of Jesus at the very beginning of his gospel account (Mark 1:4-11). This is Jesus’ first appearance. He “came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Up to this point Jesus hasn’t done a thing. He hasn’t survived the wilderness and it’s temptations. He hasn’t healed anyone. He hasn’t taught. No one has been raised from the dead. No miracles have been performed. He has not been crucified or resurrected. So what did Jesus do? He showed up to be baptized and to let truth be spoken. And it was. The Father named Jesus his Son, called him Beloved, and expressed his pleasure about him. What had Jesus done to get or cause that? Nothing. It was all gift.
That is the baptism into which you and I were baptized. Those are the waters to which we return again and again. We return to remember and claim once again the baptismal truth of our lives. Even if you do not know or believe that about yourselves I’ll bet you understand and know what I am talking about.
You’ve seen it happen with new parents. You may have even done it to a child. It’s what your parents, grandparents, a relative, or a friend did to you and it’s probably what you who are parents or grandparents did to your child or grandchild. You picked that little one up, held him or her close and said, “I love you. You are beautiful. You are perfect.” You kissed that child, called his or her name, and declared your pleasure.
So tell me. What made that child good, acceptable, lovable? What did that child do to cause you to behave in that way? Nothing. He or she showed up and you spoke a truth from deep within you.
To return to the waters of our baptism returns us to the truth God knows about us even when we do not know or believe that truth, even when we have forgotten or denied that truth, even when we cannot see it in the world around us, and even when we have acted contrary to that truth. Those baptismal waters drown the other voices that speak untruth about us and each other. They wash away our forgetfulness, apathy, and indifference. They embolden and strengthen us. They renew hope and refresh the weary. They cleanse our eyes that we might see each other and ourselves in a new light, the light of “the first day.”
None of this necessarily makes life easy. It doesn’t magically fix our life’s or world’s problems. Instead, it reveals life to be holy, sacred, and worth the effort. It let’s us start from a new place and with a different truth. Where we begin in some way makes all the difference in where we will go.
The baptism of Jesus declares that the circumstances of our lives are held in the font of God’s life, love, and presence. In every one of those circumstances we choose to live into or away from the baptismal truth God speaks about us. All of our relationships and every one of our life’s circumstances invite us to return the waters of our baptism and to then walk back into the world dripping wet.
So what would it take for you to return to the waters of your baptism? What voices need to be drowned? What needs to be washed away? What parts of your life need to hear anew God’s truth about you? Look at your life, the people and relationships, the events of our world, and tell me this, “Into what then were you baptized?”