Early in my time in the North, I had a little girl who was all of about four years of age, walk up to me and boldly asked me, “Uncle, which are you?” I was confused about the question and did not understand what she was asking me. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, she asked the question again, only louder and slower, “Uncle… which are you?” Still not grasping what she wanted, she then asked, “Which are you? Crow or wolf?” Now I understood. She wanted to know if we were related, if we were of the same clan or not. I reassured her that because the elders told me that Jesus was crow clan that meant I must be crow too because Jesus and I were brothers. The little girl smiled and went on her way; she wanted to make sure that we were friends and that I really belonged.
Such is the nature of baptism: it is the sacrament of belonging. We are adopted into a community and into a family, and drawn in to a unique life. It is not unlike when one goes to the North from the South and lives in the small First Nations communities of Yukon and Northern British Columbia. One needs to know that they belong and that they are welcomed.
“Jesus came from Galilee” to john to be baptized in the River Jordan. It was intentional and it was purposeful – the coming. But why did Jesus go? And why did he go to John and ask to be baptized? First, we can noted that because of John and his ministry, Jesus could see that the people were ready to respond. They were looking for the Messiah and they wanted to know that God was among them as he was in times before. The people were ready for revival. Coming to John was a deliberate action. Such actions cannot be ignored; they can be welcomed, they can be rejected but they will not be ignored. And by Jesus going to John and receiving baptism, Jesus immediately set the standard. Anyone who desires to follow him will have to follow this standard. Moreover, it gave John the opportunity to boldly proclaim the start of the messianic ministry.
That’s why I think it dangerous for us as Church to think of Baptism as a single moment in our lives instead of the beginning of a process. Baptism is the beginning of a whole life inside a family and a community. Baptism is not celebrated to get something, it is there to start things; in particular to start relationships. Why is that important? Because, it helps us to know just who and what we are. In our modern culture we often obsess about our self identity and define ourselves by who we know or don’t know. After all, who amongst us wouldn’t want to hear the God of the whole universe say, “This child is mine, my beloved and I am well please with him/her”? Which is more important to us in this moment, to know God or to be known by God?
Being baptized gets you wet. We all know that. Water makes you wet. What becomes important after you have been made wet? That bath is only a moment in time. What we do to live in the time that follows is just as important as the moment. we are called upon to live and witness and to serve Christ in all those we find around us. We need to intentionally live out the dyings and risings of Christ on a daily basis to make him known. Or of you want to think of it a different way, when I was first ordained, I kept waiting for a special feeling, a sense of greater holiness to descend so that I might go and be a priest, a pastor, a teacher amongst the people of God and I got nervous when it didn’t come. It took time for me to realize that it was me God called and not a different, better version of me. I had to go and live out my priesthood with and among my people, building bridges and relationships with them. And in the process of coming to people deliberately Jesus has been there too, watching and smiling.