Baptism. Symbolic. Meaningful. Purifying. Challenging. Grace-filled. Impossible. Beginning. Ending.
Jesus at the Jordan, emerging from a crowd, recognized by John the Baptist, named by God. Baptized as a beloeved Son of God. A story nestled in the Gospels; like all stories, images float together into a cohesive whole. Like all stories, this one opens to so many layers of interpretations. It is ensconced in history and nuance, captured by artists and authors, and somehow is still waiting to be known, examined and explored.
There is the element of water, dynamic yet simple, soft yet demanding, life-sustaining and yet luxurious. Water embodies the very divergences within a human person: it is at once powerful and gentle, tenative and confident, destructive and necessary. It is a central factor, one that can be eclipsed only by the characters of cousins: John the Baptist and Jesus, the extremist and the moderate, the prophet and the king, the one who sees and proclaims, the other who proclaims and sees.
One facet of this story cannot exist or be understood without the others: all three are essential. That reality is revelatory: this Baptism of Jesus is a recognition of his mission, his entering a wider stage, and it is all about involvement with the world around him. In this story, Jesus is fully, intimately human. He is known as such, experiences the river and the water with a human body, interacts with his cousin in very human terms. And so the adult journey becomes a conscious and powerful choice embedded in a world that is home to contradictory choices, commands confusion at times, and creates chaos from coherence. Like water, it both cleanses and re-shapes. Fundamentally, the journey is about messages and responses, spending time with one another and recognizing the gifts of the earth and its peoples.
Above all, Baptism is the beginning of a greater journey. It is not a laurel to be rested upon or the culminating achievement of a lifetime. Instead, it is the idea that there is so much further to go, that there is a world beyond the river, a promise beyond the ritual, and even a new role and identity to be created and re-created. The story of Jesus’baptism offers all that and more.
Far from an ending, Baptism is a beginning. That is, if the story can be told and heard and known, the beginning belongs to all of us.