Text: Luke 3:15-22 (the baptism of Jesus)
The church sometimes calls Jesus a powerful king. But if so, he is a remarkably humble one. He is born as a helpless infant. He never achieves political or military power. He is yet another peasant straining against imperial rule. And in the end, he is executed as a common criminal.
The humble status of Jesus is similar to our own. We bear the image of God and carry a divine spark within us. But even the richest and most powerful of us is born in utter dependence and dies in utter helplessness. Birth and death reveal our lack of power. We are born humble and we die humble.
But even though we share the same humble status as Jesus, his glory and power are said to be revealed at his resurrection. This is what is implied, for example, at the end of the reading from Philippians we heard this morning.
So when, exactly, is Jesus raised from the dead? Now, that might sound like a silly question to ask in church because isn’t the answer Easter Sunday? But then I remember that the earliest account of the life of Jesus, the one written by Mark, contains no Easter appearances of the Risen Christ.
Another answer might be that Jesus is raised from the dead when any of us rise to new life after a crisis or painful loss. We say that Christ lives inside the hearts of all who follow a path of death and resurrection.
Yet another answer might be that Jesus is raised from the dead at our baptisms. Paul writes in Romans, “Through baptism, we were buried with Christ into death in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have a new life” (Romans 6:4). Paul implies that our baptism is a symbol that we are already living a resurrected life in Christ. Resurrection is not something that happens after the biological death of individuals. It is a blessed state of joy into which we can stumble at any moment and which the church marks by the sacrament of baptism.
Perhaps. But if baptism symbolizes resurrected life, what does this imply about the baptism of Jesus? Perhaps when John baptizes Jesus in the River Jordan it is the same for him. Just as it is for us, the baptism of Jesus could be a symbol of dying to an old way of life and of rising to a new life in the heart of God.
This is the answer that I like best. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t happen at Easter. It happens when John baptizes him at the beginning of his ministry. This means that in the stories that follow his baptism, Jesus models a resurrected life – a life freed from fear and one bursting with Divine Joy.
It is also a humble life. Baptism initiates us into a community of broken mortals who rely on a higher power to lead us beyond selfish desires and petty fears to a life that is in alignment with cosmic Love, both now and always.
There is glory in this life, but it not about the exaltation of individuals. It is about the glory of all the forces we are dependent upon and from which we have arisen – things like the cosmos, history, and the entire web of humanity.
Baptism symbolizes that the Risen Christ lives within us; and today I imagine that this is as true for Jesus as it is for us.
A post-baptismal life is eternal and loving. It isn’t about solving life’s problems. It is about lifting us above problems and fears and revealing our deep connection to everything and everyone.
The stories of Jesus upend the normal pattern of stories about gods. Jesus is divine, but also a helpless infant. Jesus is divine, but is executed by the empire. Jesus is divine, but he doesn’t inaugurate God’s kingdom other than in our hearts.
Life is filled with humiliations. The gospel stories show us how, with Grace, we can turn these painful humiliations into the virtue of humility and its deep joy. When we embrace our humble nature as ignorant mortals and as a baptized and baptizing people, we leave behind the ordinary standards of success and merge with the Source of Love from which we have come. We rise from the baptismal waters of the Jordan River dripping with eternal life, right here and now.
And as we dry off to continue down the dusty roads of life and ministry, we might hear the Holy Spirit saying, “this is nobody special, just another of my beloved and joyful children in whom I am well pleased.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.