The Layered Onion of Baptism
I am sitting here writing on a rainy day. As the waters fall, I can’t help but think about the importance of water in my faith. As a Christian, I believe that baptism is the single most and dominant reference to water for a Christian. I wonder if I asked some people what baptism is or means I might get a few answers. As you may know from past blogs, I have been looking into repeating patterns in scripture, and I can’t help but think about patterns connected with Jesus’ baptism.
Mark chapter one tells us the story of the baptism of Jesus. It starts by saying that Jesus goes to the Jordan river. Jesus’ name in English comes from the Greek translation of his name. However, in Hebrew, we might better translate it, Joshua. Joshua goes to the Jordan river. I can’t help but think that Mark holds the story from the Book of Joshua in his mind. How the people of God stood at the Jordan rivers edge and passed through. The story tells us that first the priest went into the water and the water was stopped, so they walked on dry ground. Then what was true of the priest was true of the people. The people walked on dry ground and entered into the promise land. The reason God does this event is so that the people will know that God is with Joshua like he was with Moses.
Next, it says that Jesus was in the water and coming out of the water, the sky tore open, and the Spirit descended like a dove. All of this makes me think of the stories in Genesis. First, it makes me think of the chaotic waters in the beginning and the Spirit hovering over them. It is also in the creation story that we see the sky being torn reminds me of the story of Noah, and the waters below were ripped open and the Exodus story where the LORD split the sea. The Spirit is descending in an anointing fashion also conjures up the narratives of the anointing of kings mentioned in places like 2 Samuel and Psalms.
This passage also resonates with me thinking about the dove. The dove being the symbol of hope after finding a safe place for the humans to flourish in the Noah story. This all leads me to see the land in the creation story emerging from the waters as the place for humans to flourish and live, more generally life to thrive, and mapping that onto Jesus. Jesus is the place where life can flourish. He is the rock of our salvation.
Then a voice from heaven speaks, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” The voice speaking over the waters reminds me again of the creation narrative. The mention of the Son reminds me of the Exodus story of God calling the people his son. Then finally, Jesus is led into the desert for 40 days.
As my three-year-old son says, “holy guacamole!” The baptism of Jesus is layered like an onion. The more you peel back, the more you find. If we are to believe Paul he connects our baptism to Jesus’ baptism; what is true of him, is true of us. So here are my “takeaways” from baptism.
• We are part of a good creation that God spoke into existence.
• Despite myself and humanities continued invitation and participation in chaos (evil and violence) God wants to partners with us to remove the chaos.
• God remembers Noah and always leaves hope of a remnant.
• God uses the waters to bring about judgment in the form of justice.
• God rescues us from the waters of chaos, evil, oppression, violence, slavery, aka sin to dry ground.
• The rescuing from the waters to the dry land leads to the creation of a family/people. You are now connected to a community.
• We are reminded in Joshua what is true of the priests is true of us and Jesus is our priest.
When we as Christians talk about baptism, I wonder, do we remember all that is attached to it? When we talk about the salvation of Christ, do we know this story? My time as a Christian has blessed me with interacting with many different people from different Christian backgrounds. Some of these interactions have been with some who think by giving a small pamphlet or “pitch” about needing forgiveness of sins. With that being true, I feel like in a post-Christendom culture that doesn’t connect that way it might have in the past. Getting to know someone and getting them to know Jesus I feel is the better way to go. For me, knowing and telling the story of scripture is one of the ways we help people understand and meet Jesus. I can fully confess that as I read and learn more of scripture, I fall deeper in love with Jesus because the story adds layers to the one I know. It is like being in a relationship with someone (friendship or intimate) and meeting their family where they tell you stories of that person. You learn a new layer to that person, and that’s what scripture does with Jesus.
I wonder what experiences with baptism are? How do you connect with Jesus through baptism? Do these stories transform or deepen your relationship with Jesus?