River on Fire? Not the Cuyahoga, with its notorious history of a dozen or more detectable fires, and not the San Diego River's more recent fire. Not the River Charles, either. Although I'm telling my readers this blog isn't about those rivers, I'll still ask what makes rivers catch on fire? It seems as if I blog and talk about the sacraments almost incessantly, and yes, this is yet another sacrament blog!
In Scripture, "River" often is boundary, border or barrier, and for Israel, the Jordan was all three, just as the surging, life-bestowing waters of baptism form the boundary between life, death and our new lives in community and in full-time ministry, a border differentiating us from the not-yet-baptized and sometimes a barrier to others' understanding and perceptions of our lives in Christ. Maybe baptism needs to be a barrier to our participation in many of the world's most common ways? Parallel to the Exodus from Egypt, the event that formed the identity of God's primal people Israel, baptism is a mighty Act of God, but beyond the Exodus, Jürgen Moltmann describes baptism as "sign, witness, representation and illumination of the Christ Event." In addition, the witness of scripture reveals that baptism bestows the Holy Spirit, bringer of renewing, redeeming, reforming wind and fire, bringer of the Gifts of the Spirit the apostle Paul loves talking about.
That same Paul says we're baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection, marked with the sign of the cross and the sign of the empty tomb. But living in Christ means we constantly live with paradox, and paradoxically, the Christ Event is both finished and not yet completely fulfilled. I've written about the Eucharist as commemoration, realization and anticipation, and baptism can be described in the same way. In baptism, God names us anew; we share our new name in common with our sisters and brothers. Now we claim all the separations, distinctions and distractions that once were barriers as the boundary and border of our new life together, as baptism's waters carry us home, to a place, an attitude and a condition of safety and embrace, where "I" and "me" become we and us. Because we baptize within the context of the assembly, representing the whole People of God, theoretically we can find a home anywhere we find God's people, but that theory often doesn't play out in reality.
See, the dark night has come down on us,Of late I've been thinking so much about the fire of the Presence of God we find throughout scripture, and in our lives today. Pentecostal fire? On Advent 3 I challenged, "Today I'm asking you if the waters of baptism quench the Holy Spirit's Pentecostal fires? Think about it!" Tomorrow the choir (I get to accompany again) will sing, "You have put on Christ; in Christ you have been baptized! Alleluia, alleluia!" a festive round that's often and best sung with handbell accompaniment.
The world is living in its dream,
But now we know that we can wake up from this sleep,
And set out on the journey...
We'll take the road that leads down to the waterside...
We'll meet out on the water,
Where all strangers are known...
"The Ark," from Gerry Rafferty's City to City, (1978)
You have been baptized!
Feel that River on Fire!
That's the end of this blog for now! This is abrupt, but I'm behind in a ton of necessary stuff (though of course I make the excuse blogging prepares me for doing theology in non-blog contexts). Back to work...