Immersing Ourselves in “The Baptism of Our Lord”

Immersing Ourselves
in “The Baptism of Our Lord”

Prefacing Note:
Over early drafts of this post, I have streamlined the discussion for a faster read.  Those wanting a fuller immersion in background considerations are encouraged to view the footnotes.

As I move from a more informational approach to the Gospel texts surrounding the baptism of our Lord (commemorated this coming first Sunday after Epiphany)1 to a more formational engagement, I am haunted by the message that I am the beloved of God, called to a life of redemptive suffering. It’s a distinction (i.e., informational vs formational) that I have unpacked in various courses – including BeADisciple’s Certification in Spiritual Formation program.  In a nutshell, I might suggest that “informational” approaches have me reading and engaging the Scriptures to the end that I “master” them.  While a more formational approach has the “Word” reading and engaging me to the end that I am more fully mastered by the Divine.

From an informational or “head” standpoint, an engagement of Matthew 3:13-17 [this Sunday’s Gospel reading] can see me arriving at a message and affirmation that, in his baptism, Jesus is heralded as Messiah and “Suffering Servant.”2 (Not real earthshaking for us today but it was scandalous beyond description in Jesus day.  [cf, I Corinthians 1:23])

“Baptism of Jesus” (Bonnell)

From a more formational standpoint, though, the message becomes more personal and intimate.  As Jesus is not just the revelation (or “epiphany”) of God but of our full humanity, His baptism reveals and conveys that we – you, I —are the beloved of God, that we are anointed by the Divine, that we are called to a life of redemptive suffering.

It’s at this more personal and intimate level that the aforementioned “haunting” sets in…

    • Most times, you see, if I am really honest, I don’t see myself as being that special to God. Through the years, I have yearned for a more personal experience of God’s deep and full love.  Oh, it’s there in my head – like a John 3:16 banner hung in any number of sports arenas.  But, deep in my soul, there’s a question of how lovable I really am… and whether the Spirit at the center of life and living really does care for me that much.

    • And when it comes to suffering and serving? Count me out there, too.  With the majority of American Christians, I do not want to suffer or sacrifice – even if it means others will somehow benefit.    En curvatis en se: that’s the way Augustine diagnosed our situation.  Yes, “I am wrapped up in self.”  I want a cake walk.  Even with those I love the most, I find myself hitting a wall… and wanting them to come through for me!

    • Don’t miss, by the way, the way these two can and do conspire with one another — for the more I am confronted by my selfishness and self-centeredness, the lower I esteem myself as really lovable.

Truth is, I do not think I am alone here.  Invoking Thoreau, I believe that that most of us “live lives of quiet desperation” –in which these feelings of unloveliness and a shirking of suffering are predominate features.

Amidst the confusion of these confessions, I find myself groping for a word of hope and “good news.”  (It is among the burdens of preachers every Sunday, I was taught – to unpack the command and the promise of each day and each text.”

There is some sense of hope as I affirm that I am not alone.  Others along the way have felt this way…

    • The old soul there in Mark 9:24 (“I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”) who was not spurned by the Lord.
    • And then, there are all sorts of prayers from saints I hold dear…

Donne’s “Batter My Heart”3

Bonhoffer’s “Who Am I?”4

Merton’s “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.”5

Nouwen in his various journalings6

But, the biggest consolation comes as I recall Jesus and his walk and prayers…

Where’s hope
Mid our days of quiet desperation–
cloaked in the lesser life of ego’s reign?

To know we are not alone —
that others, too, carry this load?
Yes, there’s some consolation there.

Still greater and fuller, though:
To recall that our high priest,

That He knows how we feel,
That He once despaired
As we do–
Joining us in prayers of
“where art thou?”
“take this cup…”

Yes, He has been there…
and is here.
Yes, He knows what it is
to thirst
in a barren land.

And, in love,
with sacrifice,
He scandalously leaves the flock
to bring me home.

  1. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, or Theophany, is the feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Originally the baptism of Christ was celebrated on Epiphany, which commemorates the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Christ, and the wedding at Cana. Over time in the West, however, the celebration of the baptism of the Lord came to be commemorated as a distinct feast from Epiphany. It is celebrated in the Catholic Church as well as the Anglican and Lutheran Churches on the first Sunday following The Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6).(cf., Wikipedia)
  2. A basis for this conclusion is found in the ancient device of remez or kesher by which Jews of Jesus’ days could and would connect fuller biblical texts to fragments of that text. Think of it as a kind of ancient “hypertexting” – so that the passage “You are my beloved son” and “with whom I am well please” would have automatically connections and references to a broader web of scriptural texts and allusions:
    “You are my beloved son”: their minds and souls click to verse 2 of Psalm 7, a popular song at the coronation and anointing of king.
    “With whom I am pleased”: can you hear the click as they connect this fragment to Isaiah 42:1, the first of what are called the “suffering servant” songs?
  3. Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
    As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
    That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
     Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
     I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
     Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
     Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
     But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
     Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
     But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
     Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
     Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
     Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
     Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
  4. Who am I? They often tell me,
    I come out of my cell
    Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
    Like a lord from his palace.
    Who am I? They often tell me,
    I used to speak to my warders
    Freely and friendly and clearly,
    As though it were mine to command.
    Who am I? They also tell me,
    I carried the days of misfortune
    Equably, smilingly, proudly,
    like one who is used to winning.
    Am I really then what others say of me?
    Or am I only what I know of myself?
    Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
    Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
    Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
    Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
    Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
    Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
    Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
    Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.
    Who am I? This or the other?
    Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
    Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
    And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
    Or is something still in me like a battered army,
    running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
    Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
    Whoever I am, You know me, I am yours, O God.
  5. My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
  6. Take your pick: Gracias, The Genesee Diary, The Road to Daybreak, The Inner Voice of Love...  A common thread throughout is the cry of a soul who longs to belong and be loved.

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