Sunday 10th January, 2021, the Baptism of Christ – the Vicar

It’s been a week of drama and worry. The storming of Capitol Hill, the relentless rise in infections. We need to be reminded of God’s loving presence and to take heart. Let me distract you for a moment.

Slurp, slosh, pop, bang, screech, ding, dong: onomatopoeia. (My daughter’s name is Pia and “what’s the matter Pia?” rhymes with onomatopoeia so it’s a part of speech with which we are familiar at home). We had quite a lot of fun yesterday getting as many as we could, until it started to get a bit rude, so we stopped.

Onomatopoeia:Words which sound like the noise they are describing.

Let me give you another, but in Greek – schizo.

We are reading Mark’s Gospel. I like to think of it as our Gospel because Mark is our Patron and we come back to it every three years. Mark’s great skill is to get to the essence of things. He does not mess about in his telling of the story. It’s only verse 4 of the first chapter and where are we? We have come to the banks of the Jordan to see Jesus baptised. We gather that this prophetic character, reminiscent of Elijah, the prophet par excellence, is washing away people’s sins. John had announced that one was coming after him who will baptise not with water but the Holy Spirit. And Jesus, whom Mark tells us in verse 1 is “Jesus Christ the Son of God” does nothing else before he is baptised. He comes to John, and as Mark tells it, John baptises him without argument. And at that moment here comes the main bit of onomatopoeia: “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Quite literally Mark says the heavens were torn open schizzoed. The Greek word comes from the word which gives us scissors.

Mark uses the very same word just at the moment Jesus dies. Something was torn in two – you remember…. The curtain of the Temple.

Both these events are very linked. At the Baptism, a voice from heaven says “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. As Jesus dies a Roman centurion says “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

The key is in the tearing, and in the water.

Let’s start with the tear. This Crzzxd. At the start the heavens are torn open and God speaks. At the end the Holy of Holies is laid bare. It’s the same thing. The place of absolute holiness was absolutely holy – so holy it could not be touched, entered, known. Heaven, the place of God was beyond and out of reach, angels could at a push make an appearance, but they shouldn’t. It was inconceivable that Heaven should be torn open. The tearing that noise, the SCHIZO is meant to grate on the ear and terrify. Mark’s point at the start and finish is that heaven has come to earth. The heavenly man is in our midst so that heaven might be laid bare through him.

Jesus’s baptism is a prefiguring of what will happen on the cross. Let’s just look at the start of Genesis again. It’s so obvious we don’t see it.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”. The waters are not the seas which come later. They are the chaos out of which creation was brought to be. Water in the Hebrew mind was primordial, before anything. The waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Regent’s canal, are the primal waters of chaos, destruction and death. Jesus is sunk into those waters. Death is taken prisoner from the outset. His rising from them prompts this Epiphany, this manifestation of the fullness of God.

The Tearing is an end to distancing, veiling and hiding. We know about distancing, keeping apart from our loved ones and friends. The point is that God is undoing the distance between heaven and earth, the ultimate and the mundane, the beyond and the knowable. We have just blessed the canal – the symbolic reminder of the taming of chaos; we do this to remind ourselves that death has itself been taken prisoner, and that heavenly distance, God’s apparent absence, has been overturned in the Epiphany of our God. “Today things on earth keep feast with things above and things below commune with things above.”

 

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