A watery resurrection

Marley awoke and there was water everywhere. Dark, murky water filled her mouth and lungs, but she didn’t need them anymore, because the same water filled her grave.
She’d resurrected the moment Jesus had appeared in the sky overhead. Even though there was 6 feet of earth and well over 20 feet of water between her and the air, she still knew. She knew the same way Bradford pears knew it was time to bloom, when all at once, seemingly overnight, every one of them burst into shimmering snowflakes of petals, all over the city. How did they know? Scientists still couldn’t figure it out, but scientists couldn’t measure the Spirit, and that was what was at work, both with the trees and with Marley.
She was lucky she’d been buried before “professionals” took over the laying out. When she died, her mother and her aunts had cared for her, just like they had when she was born. They took her down to the creek, a branch of the Stones River, and washed her body. It was like a baptism she’d never had.
She’d died at 11 in 1843 of diphtheria. One week she was fine, and then she got a sore throat that seemed to take over all of who she was. It weakened her heart and that was enough to send her out of this world. Little did her family know but if that disease hadn’t killed her, the strain of her having a child later would have. Better to die now, with no obligations, nobody to leave behind.
Her Granny had told her about Jesus, about his coming back, so what was happening now wasn’t a surprise. There’d been many quiet talks over the years while they quilted together or snapped beans for the evening meal out on the back porch. They had been looking forward to formally including her in the local congregation. That wouldn’t have been until the next summer when the preacher came by to do the yearly baptizing in the creek.
Sure, she went to church, when she could, when she remembered, when there wasn’t something she had to do at the house. There were always chickens to feed or weeds to pull, and these things didn’t do themselves, as Marley’s Pa was always saying when she tried to put the chores off until later. “Best do them now, Marley girl, before something else comes up what wants tendin’.” He was right, of course, but all those “have to” things took away from the “want to” things, and to her mind the creek needed swimming and the flowers needed picking and the insects needed catching just as much as the chores needed doing. The days were just filled with things that had nothing to do with chores, but there was no way of getting around to it all.
Marley always kept the Sabbath in her heart all her days. She was a simple girl, never one to pry or gossip. All children start off good, the only problem is that the clever ones were a quick study on how to be bad. It took smarts to figure out ways around the rules, and Marley was lucky in that she never had cause to worry about that being a problem. There was no school to go to, not for her, not for anybody in Old Jefferson. There weren’t enough families to pay for a building and a teacher, and there weren’t enough children to fill it. The nearest school was a three hour’s walk away and her family couldn’t spare her for that long with so many things to do around the homestead.
She knew it was time to rise from the grave, the same as if it had been a school bell calling her. The call was silent but just as insistent, just as impossible to ignore. And why would she? Who would want to play hooky from heaven? She shoved against the rotten pine boards of the coffin, sending them swimming lazily to the side along with thick clumps of mud. It took her about 20 minutes to reach the surface, which in this case was the bottom of the lake. It didn’t take long after that to swim up to the air, but it was hard work, hard for muscles that hadn’t been used in over a century.
Why was her grave underwater, she mused? Where did the lake come from? Where was her house? For that matter, where was the rest of her family? Surely they’d be rising with her, but she saw none of them nearby. Perhaps they were buried elsewhere? She didn’t dare consider that they might still be in the ground, like iris bulbs that had gone mushy, with no spirit left in them to bloom from the dark earth in which they were planted.
The Corps of Engineers had flooded the town of Old Jefferson late in 1966 to make a hydroelectric dam, big enough to bring clean, reliable power to them and half a dozen other little towns to boot. The only trouble was that the towns had to relocate to higher ground to benefit from that progress. Power doesn’t do you any good if your farm is at the bottom of a lake.
Moving the people and their livestock was hard enough, but then someone remembered the graves. There were hundreds of family cemeteries in the valley, often tucked away at the ends of farms, at the highest point, so that the well water wouldn’t be affected. Here the dead were laid to rest at the tops of hills so they be closer to heaven. But with the water coming, all the dead had to be relocated the same as the people. It wasn’t an easy task – living relatives had to be located, permission forms had to be signed and notarized. Many of the dead were moved to the Mount Juliet cemetery, but some stayed right where they were laid to rest however long ago that was.
Sometimes the family had moved on or died out, meaning they couldn’t be asked for permission. Sometimes the remaining relatives decided it was more respectful to leave their loved ones alone after seeing some of the other graves exhumed. Plain pine boxes and fancy mahogany ones all rot the same after a few years under the pressure of 4 tons of dirt from a standard size grave. It was a hard sight to see, all those coffins being dug up and falling apart. It wasn’t respectful, to their mind. Better leave them where they were.
In Marley’s case, it was a little of both. The family had moved away not long after she had died, too distraught to live in the same place where their child had died. It didn’t make sense for her to go so young. Mama blamed herself for not taking better care of her, while Pa lamented that he’d not had enough money saved up to take her to the doctor. They’d left rather than have to answer all those ugly questions hanging around like dead fruit. It didn’t solve the problems, of course, just pushed them off until later. Unanswered questions always have a way of not staying quiet.
The family had left the tending of their graveyard to the neighbors, who promised to keep the small plot mowed and free of trespassers. They assured her kin that they’d treat them like their own, and sent them off with sandwiches and a jug of fresh apple cider on moving day. In return they got the house and the farm signed over to them. Her family was ready to start again from scratch. They figured it was the only way to make up to Marley for letting her die.
When the time came to move that plot, the neighbors had said no, in part upset at the hullaballoo created by the other exhumations, and in part hopeful that the Corps would give up on their plans. They thought that if enough people left the dead where they were, the government would have to relent and let the living stay. They didn’t count on the fact that the government doesn’t have feelings about people, whether alive or dead.
It sure was a sight to see the dead come up out of the grey-green water that late August day. It was a Wednesday when it happened in Davidson County. The Rising had started a day earlier in Israel, and had traveled like a wave over the world, spending just as long in each area as the number of dead required. Some areas took longer than others. Some were full of the faithful. Some took barely a moment, in spite of the many thousands of graves there.
The Messiah appeared in the sky, exactly as promised, trailing clouds of glory. Signs and portents had pierced the skies for weeks beforehand, but only a few people heeded them. Likewise, dreams and visions occupied the nights and days of many people, but most wrote them off to stress and took another Xanax or drank some Nyquil. They complained about their insomnia on their Facebook pages, not taking notice of how many others were having the same experience.
It was a lot like when the first raindrops started to fall when the Flood happened. Nobody but Noah and his family thought it was going to keep on raining. It was a lot like when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed – all those people died, and only Lot and his daughters were mindful enough to leave. Noah, Lot, Joseph – they all heard the voice of God and took it seriously and lives were saved. Only those who took the messages seriously were saved.
This time, many preachers told their flocks to ignore the messages, because they hadn’t heard the voice themselves. Surely God would speak to them, they thought. Why would God waste God’s time on the sheep and forget the shepherd, they mused. The problem was that they forgot that Jesus was the Shepherd, and they were the same as their church members. They’d forgotten that they weren’t in charge of anything at all. When they’d decided to take up the role of minister and do all the talking, they’d given up the most important part of following God – listening. Only those who’d remained humble pastors were called to the great awakening. They were the ones who remembered the One who was the true leader of the Church.
Marley was listening, that was for sure. She rose up, high in the sky, and was greeted personally by Jesus. She asked him how this could be since she wasn’t baptized, and he said that she’d been baptized with the only baptism that counted, the one of the Spirit. He told her that a water baptism is something people do, for show. It wasn’t real. It was a hope, a promise. It pointed towards the real thing, but it wasn’t it. It didn’t mean anything at all when it came to being saved. That was something between the person’s soul and the Spirit, the presence of God in the world.
Like called to like, with the Spirit calling and the soul responding. Water wasn’t necessary, because the Spirit could use any element it wanted. An element from the Earth was helpful, because it was a sign to the body. The soul knew when it was recognized by the Spirit, when it was welcomed home. The body needed a little more convincing, however, so some sort of ceremony was needed to remind it. That was all baptism was, he said, a reminding, a remembering, a joining back together with the side that had been forgotten during childhood. He told her that we are created in heaven, in the Spirit, and as babies are still attached to that world. Marley, having never truly left it, didn’t have any work at all to do to be part of that world again as a soul in a body.
Many others had a lot more work to do, because being a soul in a body was distracting. It was so needy, the body, so demanding. It made them forget their commitments by replacing them with cravings. It provided daily (sometimes hourly) reminders that they couldn’t possibly survive in this world without constant and persistent re-turning towards the Light that is God.
So Marley rose, far up into the sky, flying among the great crowd of people who truly followed God. They were people who were humble and pure, those who could hear the Master calling his faithful home. They had waited for a long time, asleep in the earth. Today was their true birth-day.

The baptism font at St. Meinrad’s

Let us approach the baptism font at the monastery of St. Meinrad’s  Archabbey in Indiana. It is near the front doors, although almost nobody uses them because they are up three flights of stairs.  Most use the side doors instead.

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And now we look inside.
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There is a constant bubbling of water in it.  It is rather soothing to watch.  It is big enough to put an infant inside.

Here is the base.
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This next photo is very interesting. I was taking a picture of the altar, but with the light it looks like the font is the chalice on top of the altar. This is very appropriate, as the baptism font and the altar are connected symbolically.  We enter the faith through our baptism.  We are reminded of our redemption through communion.
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I wonder what it is like for these priests to baptize, when they will never have children of their own (since they cannot marry or have sex)?

There is no reason from the Gospels why priests cannot marry. Peter, the “rock upon whom the church is built” was married before Jesus called him to be a disciple. (See MT 8:14-17, MK 1:29-34, or LK 4:38-41, when his mother-in-law was healed.) Jesus never said that his followers couldn’t be married. He also wanted us all to live communally and work together, sharing what we have with each other.

Can and can’t

The difference between “can” and “can’t” is the Cross. Look at the two words. Notice that letter at the end of “can’t”. See that letter “t” as the Cross of Jesus, the one where he proved to the world that even death has no say over us.

Take that “t” off. Take it and hold it close, put it into your heart. Remember the love that God has for you, love that caused God to send God’s only-begotten Son to you, to redeem you, to heal you, to show you the path of life. Carry Jesus with you into that thing you thought you couldn’t do.

In the church tradition I was raised in, when you were being baptized you were asked questions before you were dipped into the water. The answer to each of the questions is “I will, with God’s help.” Take the “t” off “can’t” and it becomes “can”. You can do it, with God’s help. Remember the exhortation from an apostle, who tells us “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

The great commission

The 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. They worshiped him when they saw him there. Then Jesus approached them and said “Peace to you! My Father has given me authority over all the earth and heaven. As my Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Then he breathed on them, saying “Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive their sins, they are not forgiven. Go preach the gospel and disciple everyone throughout the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, instructing them to follow everything I have commanded you to do. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved, but anyone who does not believe will be lost. These signs will follow believers – they will cast out demons in my name, they will speak new languages, they will handle snakes and not be harmed if they drink poison, and the sick will be healed when they lay hands on them. Look! I am always with you, to the end of this era.”

MT 28:16-20, MK 16:15-18, JN 20:21-23

Jesus and John the Baptist

Jesus traveled out to the Judean countryside with his disciples. They stayed for a while there and baptized people.

John had not been imprisoned by this point. He was baptizing in Aenon, near Salim because there was a lot of water there.

Then John’s disciples and the Jews began to argue about the ritual of purification. They told John “Teacher, the one who you said was the Messiah, who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, is baptizing too, and everyone is going to him.”

John answered, “Nothing can be received unless God gives it to you. You know that I said I am not the Messiah, but that I’ve been sent to prepare the way for him. The groom has the bride, but the groom’s friend simply stands by and waits on him, celebrating when he hears him. My joy is complete. He must increase in greatness, but I must become lesser.”

JN 3:22-30

John’s commentary after the baptism

John saw Jesus walking towards him the very next day and said “Look! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I was telling you about when I said ‘A man who is far greater than I am is on his way, and he existed long before me!’ I didn’t know this man was him when I said it, but I have been baptizing with water so that the nation of Israel might take notice of him.”

“I saw the Holy Spirit come down from heaven looking like a dove. The Holy Spirit rested on this man. At the time God sent me to baptize, He told me ‘When you see the Holy Spirit descending and resting on someone, that is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. That is the One you are looking for.’ I have seen it with my own eyes and I testify that he is the Son of God!”

JN 1:29-34

The Baptism of Jesus

Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by John at the Jordan at the same time everyone else did. John protested, saying “I should be baptized by you, yet you want me to baptize you?” Jesus said “It must be done the proper and legal way.” So then John baptized Jesus.

Jesus was praying the moment he came up out of the water after being baptized and immediately the heavens opened. The Holy Spirit of God descended upon him, looking like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, saying “You are my beloved Son and I am very pleased with you!”

MT 3:13-17, MK 1:9-11, LK 3:21-22

The beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist

God sent John to serve as a witness to testify about the light that is Christ, so that everyone could believe through that light. John himself was not the light, but he came to tell others about it. The true light, who gives enlightenment to everyone, was about to be revealed to the world. Christ was in the world and the world was created through Christ, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to those he was called to and yet they did not welcome him. But to those who did welcome him, he gave them the honor of being the children of God. Those who believed in Christ were born out of the will of God and not by way of genealogy or human desire.

The word of God that is Christ took on human form and lived among us. We saw his glory as the only begotten Son of the heavenly Father, and that glory was full of grace and truth.

John testified about him by telling people “This is the One I was talking about when I said ‘There is someone who is coming after me, who is greater than I am because he existed before me.’ Indeed we have all received blessing upon blessing from him, because even though the Law was given through Moses, Christ has brought us the grace of forgiveness. No one has ever seen God, but he has been revealed to us through his one and only Son, who is at the Father’s side.”

JN 1:6-18

God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah while he was in the wilderness. This was in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. At the same time, Herod was the ruler of Galilee and his brother Philip ruled the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruled Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were high priests during this time as well.

John went out into the wilderness of Judea and everywhere around the Jordan, preaching about a baptism to forgive sins for those who are repentant. He was saying “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has arrived.” Everyone from the countryside of Judea and the city of Jerusalem came to him and he baptized them in the Jordan River while they confessed their sins.

He is the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about when he said –

“Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare the way before you. He is a lone voice crying out into the wilderness, saying ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight!’ Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked path will straighten, the rough path will become smooth, and the entire world will see God’s salvation.”

MT 3:1-3, MK 1:1-5, LK 3:1-6

John’s clothing was made of camel hair and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate only locusts and wild honey.

MT 3:4, MK 1:6

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized by him, he said “You are a nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is coming? You need to act in a way that proves you are repentant. Don’t think you can get away with saying ‘We have Abraham as our father’, because God can produce children for Abraham from the stones that are here! Even now the ax is poised to chop away at the root of the tree! Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

MT 3:7-10, LK 3:7-9

The crowds asked John “What should we do?” He answered “Anyone who has two shirts should give one to the person who has nothing to wear, and if you have extra food you should give it to those who are hungry.” Tax collectors came to be baptized by him and they asked “What should we do?” He answered “Collect only what you are required to by law and nothing more.” Soldiers questioned him in the same manner and he replied “Don’t use force or false accusations to extort money from anyone – be satisfied with what you get paid.”

LK 3:10-14

All the people were debating amongst themselves if John was the Messiah or not. Priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to ask him “Who are you?” John said “I am not the Messiah.” Then they asked him “Are you Elijah?” John again said no. Then they asked him “Are you the Prophet?” John again answered “No.” “Then who are you?” they asked. “We have to give an answer to the people who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John said “I am a lone person crying out in the wilderness – Make straight the path of the Lord – just like the prophet Isaiah said.”

LK 3:15, JN 1:19-23

Since they had been sent from the Pharisees they asked him “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet?”

John said “I baptize using water, but there is One coming after me who is more powerful than I am. I am not even worthy to take off his shoes. He will baptize you using the Holy Spirit and fire. He stands among you but you don’t recognize him. He is ready to separate the good from the bad, just like how a farmer gathers the good wheat into his barn but burns the chaff in an unending fire.”

He used many other similar warnings to announce the good news of the kingdom of heaven to everyone. All this happened across the Jordan in Bethany, where John was baptizing.

MT 3:11-12, MK 1:7-8, LK 3:16-18, JN 1:24-28

Condensed Gospel part 3 – Jesus is baptized.

Luke 3:1-6
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make His paths straight!
5 Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be made low;
the crooked will become straight,
the rough ways smooth,
6 and everyone will see the salvation of God.

Matthew 3:4-12

4 John himself had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were flocking to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the place of his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn. But the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out.”

Luke 3:10-14
10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him.
11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.”
14 Some soldiers also questioned him: “What should we do?”
He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation; be satisfied with your wages.”

Matthew 3:13-16
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”
15 Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized.
16 After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17 And there came a voice from heaven:
This is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him!

John 1 32-34
32 And John testified, “I watched the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He rested on Him.33 I didn’t know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One you see the Spirit descending and resting on—He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God!”

Water and Words – on infant baptism.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’m against infant baptism. I’m cool with some ceremony where the parents commit to raising the child as a Christian, and ask for the help of the Church to keep them on track.

But I don’t get the purpose of actually baptizing their child.

There are way too many people who get their child baptized and then leave the church. There are also stories of grandparents who are concerned that neither parent is Christian. They take the child to a church on the weekend they have the kid and get her baptized, unbeknownst to the parents. There are also stories of parents whose child is gravely ill and they ask for an emergency baptism.

In all these instances they aren’t planning on raising the child as a Christian. There is something else going on. Do they think that there is something magical and protective that happens when a child is baptized with water?

Jesus never baptized anybody with water. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples after he ascended into heaven. The water is just a symbol. It isn’t the real thing. It is the commitment to following Jesus that matters. We need ceremonies to let us know that a change has occurred. We need ceremonies like we need doorways, to show us transition and evolution. Baptism is a ceremony, but it marks a change that occurs within the person. Just pouring water on someone and saying some words doesn’t make them a follower of Jesus.

It seems like idol worship for people to baptize their children. It seems like they think that words and water will do the trick. It seems like they think that that is all there is to it. Get baptized, and you’re in the club.

But baptism should be a choice of the person, not something done to you. I think that deciding to follow Jesus is too important for someone to do it for you. It is like deciding to be vegetarian. That is a major choice. Your parents may think that being vegetarian is something that you should do for your own good, much like following Jesus. But if you aren’t in agreement with it, you aren’t going to keep doing it once you are out of their house.

Then again, you can get baptized with water and it doesn’t mean anything. You still aren’t connected, you still don’t get it. It isn’t the water or the words. It is the Holy Spirit that makes it work.

The Holy Spirit baptizes. That is like being upgraded from a 110 to a 220, like being transformed from a garden hose to a fire hose. It is overwhelming. When you’ve been touched by the Holy Spirit you are never the same again.

Let us stop baptizing children. They aren’t able to make that decision, and it is too important for it to be made for them. Let us remember that God is the one who saves us, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It isn’t the water. It isn’t our words.