The day Jesus was baptized must have been a memorable day.
John the baptizer is in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the city of Jerusalem and all Judea flock to him, and are baptized in the river Jordan,. After years of living with a filthy buildup of sin and unrighteousness, the people of the region must be relieved to be washed clean and made right with God.
John is providing a much-needed spiritual service for the people, but reveals he’s not simply in the purification business when he proclaims, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me … I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I wonder if the memory associated with their baptisms included having a hard time understanding what John meant by such a statement. No doubt, even when, or perhaps especially when something is hard to understand, it makes that something memorable. This is true of why it’s still so hard for me to understand how the Indians lost three straight games to the Yankees in last year’s Divisional series, and three straight to the Cubs the year before.
It must have been a memorable day for all involved, all who witnessed the event, because it was so unique, so powerful, but at the same time so out of the ordinary, unlikely—even difficult to understand.
But not only that, it must have been memorable because this was a day when everything changed. Everything changed for John the Baptist. Everything changed for Jesus. Everything changed for those who were baptized and those who saw the baptism of Jesus. Everything changed for the world.
And no doubt when something happens in our lives that makes for a change in everything, the meaning it has, and the meaning we give it, shapes our memory, and it shapes our lives.
Such was the case for each of us on the day we were baptized. And no doubt such is the case today for Megan and C.J. who are about to be baptized.
When we look at the actual events that occurred at the Jordan, we see a variety of emotions. There’s gratitude for the gift of forgiveness. Surprise and shock at the sight of the baptizer’s camel’s hair clothing and diet of locusts and wild honey. Certainly there’s some confusion about the identity of the powerful one who’s coming after John.
So the actual experience of John’s ministry is a jumble of emotions: gratitude, relief, but confusion and wonder
All of this changes though when Jesus comes on the scene.
Mark tells us that Jesus comes from Nazareth of Galilee and is baptized by John in the Jordan, and just as he is coming up out of the water, he sees the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove.
And a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is acknowledged as God’s Son, the Beloved. The mix of feelings up to this point— gratitude for cleansing, surprise at the baptizer’s appearance and words, confusion about the identity of the powerful one— are suddenly pushed aside. In their place, a new emotion emerges: joy.
When Jesus is baptized, we are filled to overflowing with a feeling of joy that God has revealed God’s Son, announced God’s love and proclaimed just how pleased God is with Jesus.
Jesus is now, for us, the Word of God in human form … the Way, the Truth and the Life … God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.
All this is to say, that the day Jesus was baptized must have been a memorable day.
But what about the day we were baptized? Is that a memorable day for us?
It was for me. I can still remember that day vividly. Myself and Andy Keener, and Kristi Morris were baptized by Rev. Jerry Murphy at Central Christian Church in Wooster.
I remember our nervous excitement. I remember making our way up the back stairs that lead to the sanctuary, stairs that we would later walk down very slowly so as to not slip.
I remember stepping into the waters, too nervous to look out at my family and congregation.
I remember my first communion, with my hair still damp.
And I remember being tipped back into the water.
But what I remember the most is being under that water.
It was in that moment of immersion, of baptism, that I opened my eyes and saw a sight I’ve never forgotten—the simple blur of swirling waters and bubbles.
It lasted just a moment, and then was over.
But that moment has been seared into my memory ever since.
It has become the memory of the moment I knew I belonged to God, that I had indeed died to my old life, and was raised to new life, and that no matter what, I would forever belong to God.
The day I was baptized was a memorable day.
In the sacrament of baptism, we are connected to the body of Christ—the universal community of Christians that’s nothing less than the flesh-and-blood physical presence of Jesus in the world today.
In the sacrament of baptism, we become children of God, no less loved and accepted than Jesus Christ himself.
Paul writes to the Romans and says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3, 5).
Baptism connects us to the body of Christ. It enables us to die and rise with Jesus. It gives us new and everlasting life, and a freshly minted identity as children of a loving God.
It’s an experience that should shape our memory forever because truly it is an event that shapes the rest of our lives.
Because of our baptism we know, without a doubt, that we belong to God. And nothing can ever change that.
Baptism marks our birth as Christians.
It involves a process that is similarly wet and messy as the physical birth that brought us into this world, and it is also every bit as permanent.
Through baptism, we are identified as children of God who are both loved and lovable, chosen by the Lord to be God’s people in the world.
Dutch priest wrote Henri Nouwen wrote, “The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”
The chosen child of God. This is not just Jesus … it is each one of us.
This is why the baptism of Jesus, and the baptism of us all, is so memorable. For the memory of baptism reminds us that we are: Precious, Beloved, Safe in an everlasting embrace.
That is the true identity of the baptized. Amen.