January 10, 2011

Joining the Beloved

                Early in the new liturgical year we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.  Receiving baptism from the protesting John, Jesus stated that it was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3: 15).  Those familiar with the book of Matthew know that often the gospel writer explains how an event in Jesus’ life is to fulfill the prophetic word, and thus is an expression of righteousness—which is the will and purpose of God.  Together John and Jesus perform God’s purpose in this historic baptism.

                Trinitarian theologians are quick to note that the threefold divine presence is narrated in this passage.  In many ways, it is an echo of Genesis 1 as the Word of God brings all creation into being through the brooding of the Spirit hovering over the face of the deep.  Rending heaven to make space for creation at the beginning is joined now by a voice declaring the Son as the beloved.  Earlier the Spirit was poured out into all creation, giving it life; now the Spirit rests on the one loved by God and pleasing to the Holy One.  The baptism of Jesus is inaugurated in the Jordan, but it is not the whole of it.  His baptism is his whole life of self-giving, immersed in the sufferings and extremities of being one of us.  And we are joined to him through our baptism, incorporated into his life by the Spirit.

                This past Friday at the Abbey, students in the Benedictine Spirituality class celebrated Eucharist together.  We had observed the daily mass held at the Abbey, but had not partaken because of the divisions between Roman Catholics and Protestants.  While welcome in all other aspects of the worship of their community, sharing in Eucharist would indicate a unity not yet achieved, as canon law puts it.  Because Baptists and other Protestants do not affirm the full sacramental system of the RC Church—which includes papal infallibility—we respect the “fence around the table” as earlier theologians described it.  When Friday arrives, we are hungry to share in this nourishing sign of our faith, recognizing that we, too. share in the Body of Christ and are beloved.  As a part of the service, I took a small flask of oil (actually it was a kind of baby oil) to anoint the hands of our class members.  “Remember your baptism,” I said as I made the sign of the cross on each hand.

                It is when we remember our baptism that we become acutely aware that we are beloved by God.  This is the deepest longing of our life, to know that we are uniquely treasured by God.  Joined to Christ, we are able also to fulfill all righteousness.  Thanks be to God!

                                Molly T. Marshall

                                                To learn more about Central as a formative, creative, and progressive seminary in the Baptist tradition, visit our website www.cbts.edu




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