Let Him Easter In Us – The Baptism of Our Lord
As you can tell by the green vestments, we’re back in Ordinary time. In case you’re wondering where the Baptism of Our Lord went, it was on Monday, because it was supposed to be last Sunday, but Epiphany was on Sunday, so the Baptism was moved to Monday, because… well, I don’t really understand the intricacies of the Church calendar, but here we are. Interestingly enough, our Gospel reading is about, you guessed it, the Baptism of Our Lord, so let’s talk about that!
John the Baptist, almost in astonishment, breathlessly relates what had happened when Jesus, a man he didn’t really even know, shows up and requests baptism. He tells the whole crowd of people, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.” Doves were well-known helpers of sailors in the ancient world. They would be sent out from ships and, if they returned, that meant land was not nearby. Think back to Noah, who sent a dove from the Ark. The dove would always find a safe place to land. Spiritually speaking, the dove is a symbol for the Holy Spirit, who always leads us to safety, always leads us to Christ.
Water, especially large bodies of it, can be terrifying. There’s a reason I don’t care to go in the ocean and would rather sit on the beach and read. Last time I checked I don’t have gills or flippers and wouldn’t survive very long in open water. There are also scary things out there: jellyfish, sharks, killer whales, and those little fish that bite your ankles. Because of this, and because sailors in the ancient world had a healthy respect for the sea, water came to symbolize death. To go down into the waters was a common metaphor.
The danger of water continues unabated to this day. One incident that comes to mind, out of many, many other stories of shipwrecks is the sinking of a ship called the Deutschland, which was carrying five Franciscan nuns on their way to New York in 1875 when they were drowned in the cold waters off the English coast. This incident shocked those who heard about it and came to fame through a poem that Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote called “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” in which he talks about the way in which Christ is fetched in the “storm of his strides.” The world can be a dangerous place, but Our Lord is with us through the whole of our lives, from birth to death.
Baptism is also a dangerous activity. We know that Christ is united with us in baptism, that it is our entrance into the Church; it takes away our sins and gives us faith. Being united to Christ, though, isn’t a simple rite of passage because we want to take pictures of our sweet little babies in their white gowns. Baptism is a continuation of the Incarnation, in which God showed that he loved us so much that he was willing to take on our nature. For Jesus, this was dangerous. It led to his death. As he falls into the waters of baptism, he falls into his own death. He takes our sins and carries them all the way to the Cross. For us, it can also be dangerous, because in the baptismal font, we die, too.
But remember that dove. It always flies to a safe place. In baptism, we do not remain in death, we do not remain in our sins, but we find Jesus there in the waters and he lifts us up. The grave does not hold him, and with death comes Resurrection, not only for Our Lord but for us as well. St. Gregory Nazianzus says, “Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him.” He is our safe place in the storm.
“Easter in us”
Hopkins uses “easter” as a verb, meaning it is an action within us, and it is continually happening. Christ is in you, right now, in the fullness of his death, in the fullness of his life. This is why St. Paul says that we are continually carrying about the crucified Christ – baptism leaves a mark.
Maybe you are dealing with sickness, or spiritually troubled, doubtful, stressed out, struggling with finances, or the challenges of being a parent, or the challenges of being a child or a teenager, worried about the state of the world – none of these can separate you from the God who is eastering in you. He brings with him new life to all those who join him in the waters of baptism. So turn to him and find that He is an Ark that floats us above these darkening waters, because he has gone lower than death itself and his love glides along with it, and to those who are sinking, he reaches out, grasps us, and never lets go.