January 9, 2022
Baptism of Jesus, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
I wonder if anyone saw the dove or heard the voice. In Luke’s telling of the baptismal story, Jesus is one in a line of people arriving for transformation and change as they entered the water. In Matthew, it’s clear everyone hears the voice. But not in Luke. The voice seems to be addressed to Jesus alone. As all those people dripped on the bank of the river, did they even notice him? Were his eyes closed, seeing the dove and hearing the voice in his mind’s eye? Was he looking up to heaven, praying Psalm 2 when, “You are my son,” hit him. “These words are for me.”
Clearly this is Jesus’ moment of realizing that he was anointed for service; claimed in the long line of messianic, prophetic figures who felt compelled to call the community home to its roots, not as someone “above” or “better-than,” but as someone open, a window to light and Spirit, willing to shine.
I suspect most of us would prefer the clear voice of God ripping open the skies to give us some comfort and direction as we, once again, dial back, mask up, step away from one another, trying to imagine without those stickers on the floor just how far six feet really is.
I forgot about Epiphany on Thursday. With all the attention on the nation-dividing insurrection on Thursday and a morning far below zero, I totally forgot to mark our door with the traditional 20+CMB+22 because I was focused on getting to the COVID testing center on time, lining up with a much longer line than in previous visits. Not because I have symptoms or think that I had some big exposure, right now, you just don’t know, even what might be going on in your body.
It hit me as I stood in line. None of us can really see what’s going on. We can’t see where this virus is at work. We can’t see how long this whole thing will go. We can’t see where our political divisions or our insecurities or our disease is going to take us. Few of us get to see the have the kind of visions that Jesus did on the bank—the Spirit and the voice of God so clear that there’s not any doubt. We do not see what God is doing just outside our awareness.
We’re the other people in the baptismal line, praying that life could have more clarity or that we would discover the answers to our deepest questions, hoping that the future is different than what we suspect. Just like the people with John at the Jordan, generally unaware that God is setting something into motion at this very moment that will change the trajectory, not just of our little corner of the world, but the whole universe.
That’s what hit me in the line at the airport COVID testing center. Even if I can’t see it, that doesn’t mean that something is happening right now that will tilt life toward closer to the light; something is happening to someone who will create patterns of healing and justice that will change lives and open doors. I wondered even if someone in the line, by learning their status and taking care, would save a life. There is a window between heaven and earth that will open today that will flood someone or someplace with a voice of delight and nudge into service. Maybe it will be dramatic enough to see with our own eyes. Maybe it won’t.
Communion may look awkward today. In fact, maybe it’s felt that way since the pandemic started; or since Jesus instituted it. We commune under one kind. Just bread. In fact, it doesn’t even look much like bread. It’s one of those wafers that takes more faith to believe its bread than to believe that it holds Jesus. We’re holding back the cup so that we can commune more safely. Fewer people standing right next to each other. Not really even a need to take a mask off. Just slip the wafer under and in. In, with, and under.
In a way, our celebration of communion never looks like a heavenly banquet. It’s always just a foretaste, and certainly seems like an exaggeration to say that God is re-righting the world through it. Those of you who are communing at home have both symbols yet not the gathered community. Our practice is always less than what we say it is.
And every week, we trust that God is filling this whole creation with the wine of healing; the cup of peace and justice. Today those in the room we’ll just walk past the cup, all of us just one in a line yearning for change and transformation, a better or safer world. We won’t see one another sharing the cup. Yet we will announce that the blood of Christ has been shed for you, beloved child of God. The cup of heaven has been poured out on this riverbank next to the Mississippi River. Like those jars of water at the wedding of Cana, suddenly filled to overflowing with the best wine.
The world of COVID and injustice; the world of death and illness; confusion and anxiety is always more than it seems. It is populated with openings; moments of heavenly descent; voices of love and delight speaking through the clouds.
Even when we forget to mark it or can’t see it, or walk awkwardly past it.
In the year 2022, CMB, Christus mansionem benedicat, mystery arrives with gifts, and our places, our homes, our riverbanks are blessed. All of us, and everything, marked with the sign of the cross forever.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;
One God, Mother of Us All. Amen.