It begins with a bath
When Maisy was first born, just after the drama subsided -- when the hospital room was cleaned up and cleared out, the staff off tending to some other birth and Andy gone to check on Owen -- and I was alone with this tiny stranger bundled in my arms, the nurse came in and asked me if I would like to give my new daughter a bath.
I had not been asked this when Owen was born, he had been bathed efficiently on the other side of the room while I was being tended to and was given back to me all soft and warm and fresh. So I didn’t really know what I was being asked. “Yes” I answered, “I would love to.”
To my surprise, the nurse went into the bathroom next to me and began filling the enormous tub with warm water. ‘Now you just come and get in here, and I will hand her to you.” she said.
So I set Maisy on my pillow and slid out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. I took off my gown and carefully lowered my aching and traumatized body into the water. When I was sitting comfortably the nurse unwrapped Maisy from her blankets and removed her impossibly small diaper, and then reached over and handed me this 5 lb 5 oz creature that practically fit in her one hand.
Maisy woke up from the shock of the cold air as she was being unswaddled and handed over, and she squirmed and cried out in my arms- her little voice stretching her new vocal chords. I propped up my knees and rested her on my legs so I could study her little face, hold and examine each spindly limb, and then she relaxed, her fingers finding her mouth and her eyes peeking open just a crack.
I began dribbling water over her belly and arms with a washcloth, scooping it in my hand and pouring it down her hair, where it ran past her ears and onto her small, soft shoulders. I gently massaged shampoo on her head and between her fingers and toes.
And I absolutely marveled in wonder at meeting her this way.
“Hi.” I said. “You’re Maisy. And I’m your mommy. And I love you SO MUCH.”
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. And God spoke, out of the chaos of the waters God made life, and called it good, and so began the Story.
Fast forward to this moment, when Jesus stands before John in the river Jordan, the water rushing gently past his legs, those who’d gone before him dripping on the shores ahead and those behind him waiting dry and dusty in the sun.
The time comes and Jesus’ knees fold under him and he feels John’s hands supporting his back. His eyes close and he drops, with a rush of cool he is underneath. Darkness beneath, except the dancing of light refracted through the water, the sounds above muffled but the rushing in his ears, his body buoyant, his breath held. For one split second he relaxes, quiet, still, as though dead, lost to the world above, and then John’s hands, lifting him back out, the breaking of the surface with light and sound and air, his lungs fill with a gasp and his feet find a place underneath him again. The water runs down his face and shoulders and he blinks and opens his eyes.
And then the heavens tear open.
“Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” They cried, the prophets of old, with all the longing of a people for a savior, yearning for God to come to them.
And the Spirit descends upon him like a bird coming swiftly and steadily to land – he feels the weight and warmth on his head, even. And then the voice. A voice penetrating his whole being. You. You are my son. And I love you SO MUCH.
It begins at the water. And we come back here every year just after Epiphany, to stand on the banks and watch him be baptized. After the light of the world penetrates the darkness and spreads over the earth. After God comes in to join us in the life God so delightedly set in motion- we come to this moment when the prophets’ plea is answered and the heavens are torn open, and the gift given to the world is standing in the waters between his childhood and his ministry: the beginning of Jesus’ activity of God in the world.
I love the image of God incognito, submitting to baptism for repentance of sins, just like any one of us. I love that he is quite passive in this story, he is pressed into the deep by the prophet who proclaimed his coming, called out by the voice of the Divine who spoke the Word at creation, and propelled out of the water into his calling by the Holy Spirit. Welcome to it, Jesus, life happens to you. That’s how it is when you come to share humanity’s place. And so he is baptized into our life of death, as we will be baptized into his death and new life.
I love the image of the waters of creation, flowing over the earth, dividing into oceans, then lakes and rivers, flowing millennia through the land, pumping out of deep springs and carving paths through rock and field and now rushing down the Jordan, against the human knees of Word made flesh. In these waters of the beginning he finds his new purpose. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Mark says. (Mark 1:1)
Now in the waters of the earth he is cleansed and claimed, blessed and named.
And so are we.
Whether you were baptized as a baby, utterly unaware of what occurred, or you came into the waters on your own two legs, by choice submitting to the blessing, what happened from there was God’s work. Holding you in the broad arms of the community of faith, God spoke words of truth to you with human voices, and by water and the Holy Spirit, God named you and claimed you as God’s own.
Hi. God said. You are my beloved, and I am your God, and I love you SO MUCH.
And then like the Word bringing life and the story beginning anew, before anything else, belonging to God became what defined you. Your journey for the rest of your life comes from this starting point. The Spirit indwells you and compels you to follow. To discover in every phase and relationship, every loss and every connection, every one of life’s endings and beginnings what this means for you, how you are meant to share in God’s love for the world.
In the mystery of this moment, in the water of the earth, God claimed you and marked you as Christ’s own forever.
And so, when we gather in this place, and sit here between font and table- between the waters that give us life and the bread of life that feeds us, we remember who we are, and to whom we belong.
I read this week that we live in a homeless kind of time, a rootless, placeless kind of existence. Our own homes are the places we stop off to sleep, passing others as they come and go, sometimes eating there but not always. Our places of origin have mostly changed or disappeared, we’re always, it seems, on the move, in transition.
To be people of hospitality, this author argued, we need a place from which to reach out and meet others.
This is that place. This is our home. Not the physical location, but the claim of God on our lives- as the community that gathers in the love of God and shares the story of God, the water and bread and wine and prayer that summon us to find our selves again in the blessing of God.
And so as we begin again, each year, in our own lives and in the life together of this congregation, we come back to the place of our beginning. Because whatever happens to you from here, whatever else in this world would try to claim you or name you, would try to tell you who you are and how you are defined, this truth remains and can never be removed: You belong to the God who shares our place. We have been cleansed and claimed, blessed and named. In life and in death, we belong to God.
This makes us brave and open, able to share our lives with others, able to enter into even their darkness and pain. Being held in the love of God allows us to hold others there as well.
So come to the font where we are cleansed and claimed, blessed and named.
Come to the table where we are fed and freed.
Find here again your life, in the life of God lived for us and with us.
Find here again your purpose, in the love of God lived in us and through us.
Thanks be to God.