Bless Your Water

Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov
Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov

On the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th or January 19th, depending on the calendar used), the Orthodox perform an ancient rite with roots in Israel and the early church: the Great Blessing of the Water. In many parts of the Orthodox world, the blessing happens on a frozen lake, requiring saws to carve their way through thick ice. Commemorating Jesus’ baptism, stalwart souls sometimes plunge into the biting water (did I mention January?). The priest dips a cross three times, then sprinkles water in all four directions, as if to baptize the entire world. This water evokes primordial creation (“the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters”) and the belief that in Jesus the world God once named good returns again to harmony with God. In God’s world, even the water is holy.

Each Sunday, Christians around the globe eat bread and drink wine, remembering Christ — and not Christ as ethereal deity but a God who got blisters and cried tears, a God who grew incensed at injustice and who cooked fish on the beach for his friends. A God who insisted on restoring humanity to our true humanity. And we raise the bread and the wine, these most ordinary elements, to God. We remember how God fills the entire world (every blade of wheat, every luscious grape, every finch and every rugged range) with grace.

Given all this, how is it possible that we have arrived at the place where many believe that love for God’s world sits at odds with Christian faith? Why do so many believe that the work of their hands and the longings of their heart share little import in the Kingdom of God? How did our humanness, the humanness so essential that Jesus would not abandon it, become only a liability rather than also a source of great promise?

However you bake your bread, however you bless the waters of your world, know you are doing holy work. Good God, we need you.

Drowning

Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save us from our sins?
I believe

Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to bring you life and to bring you home into his kingdom?
I believe

Do you renounce Satan and his kingdom and all his evil works?
I do

And will you turn from your sins and obey Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit?
I will

Will you now lay your life down and be buried in God’s love?
I will

Last Sunday, Wyatt received baptism. One of the perks of being your boy’s pastor is that you get to participate front and center in these sacred moments. I was knee deep in the baptismal waters, my arm around his shoulders (and that’s where I hope to always be, wading into his water, standing next to him).  With joy, I laid priestly hands on my son and said holy words, In the name of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, be buried in Jesus’ death…

Baptism is many things, but three things at least – and all three are about belonging. In our baptism, we declare that we belong to Jesus and to Jesus’ kingdom. In baptism, the church declares that we belong to the community, this family of faithful storytellers. And, most importantly, in baptism the Spirit declares that we belong to the Triune God. Baptism is really more about what God is doing than about what we are doing. God has marked us, come after us, loved us to death. And life.

Because this whole thing is a communal affair, the entire community renews our baptismal vows before the new vows are taken. In a way then, with each new baptism, it is as though we are being baptized anew. The last question of the vows, the words that are spoken just before we put a body under the waters, echoes for me today.

Will you now lay your life down and be buried in God’s love?

Will I?

The verbs in this question are passive. Will I lay down? Will I be buried? Will I surrender the illusion that I can pull my life together? Baptism is something I receive, not something I do. I don’t baptize myself; another baptizes me. I don’t finagle my way into the church; the community simply gives me a wide welcome. I didn’t snag a ticket into God’s kingdom with my spit-n-shine resume. God isn’t lucky to have me. God came and got me because God is kind and because this is what God does – God comes and rescues.

So this is the question my baptism asks me: Will I lay down and drown in love? Will I drown?

Will I hold my ground and guard my self-interests in my marriage – or will I drown?

Will I wallow in selfish guilt about what my poor fathering choices say about me, or will I surrender every shred of image and reputation and just love my boys, now, today? Will I protect myself – or will I drown?

Will I keep distance from those I’m sure to disappoint or those who I think will leave me lonely – or will I drown?

I choose to drown.

I surrender the image of the put together husband, father, writer, pastor, friend.
I choose to drown.

I am probably not as smart or brilliant or witty or insightful or artful as you are.
I choose to drown.

I will probably never write a bestseller.
I choose to drown.

I want to drown. Because I want to live.

What kind of drowning are you surrendering to?