I was 12 years old when I came up out of a shallow lukewarm pool at the front of an old sanctuary in the Texas town where I grew up. I think it was the week after Easter. As a kid growing up in a Southern Baptist church environment, I had recently said some version of the "sinner's prayer" and asked Jesus to come into my heart. Afterward, I was scheduled to have a visit with the pastor to talk about my decision and when I wanted to be baptized. As you can imagine, baptism in the Southern Baptist church is an important milestone and one that the majority of my church peers had passed long before I decided to take the plunge.
I honestly don't remember a single word my pastor said to me during that meeting. I don't even remember my baptism day well besides being nervous about being paraded in front of a crowd of strangers and my grandparent's friends. My name was printed in the church bulletin. However, when I think back on that moment in my life, I realize how a trite and culturally assumed practice like baptism affected me in a profound way. 12 years old and I felt transformed. I was a part of a historical tradition that, while very different than being dipped in that sterile Texas baptismal, was undeniably linked to Jesus himself.
In Matthew 3, Jesus goes to be baptized in the Jordan river by John. This confuses John because he's been in the woods preaching about the closeness of God's Kingdom through repentance and the forgiveness of sins. So, why would Jesus want to be baptized along with the others who have journeyed into the wilderness?
I think it's easy, particularly in the U.S., to want a Superman Jesus. We are really good at talking about Jesus as God or Lord while dismissing the many times that Jesus simply gets in line with his sisters and brothers. Matthew is the only New Testament writer to call Jesus "Immanuel," which means "God with us." Before he is baptized, Jesus tells John that his baptism signals "God’s work--putting things right," which is to say that God's saving work has already begun in the human vulnerability of being washed in a symbol of death and birth. As we reflect on the baptism of Jesus, may we consider the significance of Jesus aligning himself so completely with all people that he was willing to participate in this mysterious ritual that we continue today.
Have you ever been baptized? If so, what was the experience like? What does Jesus' baptism suggest to you about his perspective of life and faith?