Sunday, January 10, 2021
“Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” Mark 1:10 (NIV)
The baptism of Jesus tears through the border between heaven and earth. The Greek verb here is schizomenous, having to do with gnashing something open, ripping apart. God slashes open the sky. The is the beginning of an apocalypse.
Imagine scenes from “Left Behind” books and movies: judgment unleashed from the heavens, fire and brimstone, cosmic devastation.
But this apocalypse does not initiate an inferno. Instead, the Spirit of God swoops down – the Holy Spirit like the dove who returns to Noah on the ark with an olive branch, a sign of life. The Spirit is like a bird at the beginning of Genesis who hovers over the waters, who broods over the oceans. The apocalyptic arrival of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism declares God’s solidarity with earthly life, God’s commitment to the human community. The sky opens up to reveal that this Jesus will embody the movement of God in the world, this one is God’s love made flesh.
In my life, there have been two experiences of baptism. At age 12, on Mother’s Day, with so much excitement, wearing a new suit, I knelt in the local Methodist Church, was baptised. It was a wonderful day, I belonged and knew that God redeemed and accepted me no matter what.
Moving forward ten years later on a dark late night walking down a rundown street in Sheffield near the Urban Theology Unit Seminary, a friend and I observed a group of primarily people, surrounding a barrel with a fire burning like a candle inside, and a preacher standing up preaching a purely evangelistic Gospel to a large crowd of people.
As my friend and I approach, the preacher turned his eyes toward me, looking directly into them, and proclaimed, “You are destined to be a Light in the darkness, to those who no one else sees, and you will suffer greatly, you will be broken, but you will be blessed and bless thousands.”
I still shiver, looking back, and feeling the Spirit pouring over me in baptism. To this day it is as re Baptism is not to be taken lightly but is a communion in this divine love, our union with Christ’s life. In baptism, we give ourselves to God’s love – to be “caught up” in God’s light in the world, in the words of Rowan Williams, “so that we may grow into wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.”
We are revelations of love, signs of God’s delight in creation.”