Today’s Daily Office Gospel reading, skipping the genealogy of Jesus, brings us back around to John the Baptizer, a voice crying in the wilderness, which continues for the next two days. Probably chosen to begin the way to our annual memorialization of the first Pentecost, and to remember the baptisms which may have been celebrated at Easter and again might be at Pentecost, they also remind us of the living water, that which Jesus offers again and again, which will quench our thirst forever (Jn 4:14; Jn 7:37). The river of life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb (Rev 22:1). Water, without which we would die in days. Water, in a world which has little or none. Yes, we are in need of water. For our lives. For life eternal. To drink deeply in our souls in times of gratitude or sorrow. And the Baptizer showed the way in the river Jordan, knowing that his cousin was the true baptizer, both with water and the Spirit.
Yesterday we prayed, “O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” Fed with bread, our thirst quenched with wine and water, our soul cleansed with water and oil. What more could we need? It seems we need so much more, because the world has forgotten the Way. We snigger at the crazy people who turn up occasionally on our city streets with sandwich boards preaching repentance. But perhaps there is truth here. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and 23 other church leaders released a letter last month for a Reclaiming Jesus campaign, appealing for a return to the Gospel to correct those who use Christian theology for political gain. While the letter outlines specific issues of concern, I want to focus on part of the letter’s opening mission statement.
“A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis: , , , We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake. It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35).” It is a powerful document and worth reading and acting upon. Perhaps the underlying solution to all of the specified issues – racism, misogyny, social and economic inequality, violence, especially gun violence – can be summed up in four words. Jesus Christ is Lord. There may be complaints about “lord,” a gendered term, one of hierarchical inequality, reflecting back on a feudal age. But God is in charge, total charge. We, in fear and trembling, are called to obedience, guided by the Spirit. And Jesus was pretty clear about following him, in humility, peace, and mercy. As Paul wrote “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28)”. Our Lord taught us to support each other, not hate or kill each other.
Are we being washed clean of sin, fed by Living Water? John was crazy, right? And wasn’t Jesus accused of being crazy, possessed, by his family and church elders (Mk 3:21-22)? What would happen if 1 in 100 of us, 1 in 1000, stood up and proclaimed Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God? Drink and you will never thirst again. Could that be the key to curing the soul of this nation? The key to gun control? Sexual harassment? Racism? And a way to reconciliation? What a radical thought.
John baptized the humble and repentant, but when he saw the good and great, the Pharisees and Sadducees, coming to the river, he rounded on them. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves,” (Mt 3:7-9) and he went on to chide them for leaning on their learning, Law, and lineage. Don’t be like them. There is a reason we renew our baptismal vows on a regular basis.
Do we embrace the Trinity as laid out in the creed? Do we really renounce Satan and the evil powers of the world, pray, confess when we fall, receive the sacraments and God’s word? Do we remember we are sealed, Christ’s own forever? The world is distracting. We forget. And if we pray, really pray in thanksgiving, gratitude, and in humble petition for the good of the world, the Holy Spirit will sustain us, open our mouths, and maybe the Gospel will come pouring out, the way Jesus instructed when he sent disciples into the world. That’s what Peter did, what Paul did, and we got a Church. Messy, struggling, but proclaiming Christ Jesus.
Jesus came to be baptized, the only Son of the Father, in humility, to fulfill the Scriptures. And his Father brought down the Holy Spirit upon him, and was well pleased. I would have waded out of that river and followed him, right then and there, wouldn’t you? Even if that meant putting up with the apostles, washing tunics, hauling baskets of food, buckets of water, and whatever tasks were assigned to me, just to be with him, to listen to him. I would have been Martha for those moments of being Mary. Whatever the portion I were given would have been enough, or at least enough to hold close to my heart the desire to be more perfect, more loyal, more blessed, to learn more, worship him. And when sent, I would have gone, gladly, to proclaim his Word.
So what happened to us? To the Church? Where are we? Sort of faithful? Slightly embarrassed? Easily distracted? I don’t have a simple answer, and another committee, another letter, won’t do. Perhaps it is time to search our hearts and be crazy for Jesus. Perhaps we need to sink down in the humility and love that comes when the Holy One, in silence, envelops us, and assures us that we are loved and comforted. After the excitement of the revivals and action committees, will we have the deep faith to sustain us through the hard times? Can we reclaim Jesus as the early church did daily, hanging on in a hostile world? We must.
Easter is a season, fifty days long, and offers us as much as did Lent, to remember, to turn to God, to see ourselves in the Resurrection, to do the work Jesus instructed us to do. It starts with Living Water, the water of baptism, and we will never thirst.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.