Sunday, 13 January 2013

Common People Like Us

It's always such a problem for the Beaker People - or those of us who try to lead the worship - this time after Solstice and Christmas. Everybody's all partied out, it's still three weeks to Imbolc, and it's still dark in the afternoon.

I gather that those who keep to the mainstream lectionaries are celebrating the Baptism of Christ this Sunday. Which we tend not to observe. It's too hard for us. The Beaker Folk don't do theology that raw.

Because I've tried in the past. After all, a baptism involves water, which can be poured out of beakers. And so the baptism ceremony per se  is very much in our sweet-spot. Although I've had to put my foot down with those people who asked if they could be baptised every week, because they enjoyed it so much the first time.

We find that whenever we focus on the specific things Jesus did or said, rather than just telling ourselves how lovely he was, we get these kinds of problems. He isn't always as straightforward a God's Son as we want. He's often kind of spiky - being rude to people; getting angry; going off and getting killed. And then you get this whole baptism of Jesus business, and it just doesn't work for Beaker Folk.

For starters, not one of the Gospels-writers tells us what Jesus was wearing. I mean, you'd think that for your baptism you'd want to make sure you've got some nice clothes - maybe a decently modest white gown, with lead sewn into the hems to keep it down. But then the he's being baptised in a river, so the danger of getting a muddy best gown has got to be there.

And again, we're given no details of any pre-baptism testimony. I mean, normally we'll get ten minutes of how the candidate was sunk in sin / lost without hope / without any knowledge of God / on a slippery slope / a Tory MP, and then they saw the light / found Jesus / their chains fell off, their hearts were free, as the sage wrote. But presumably Jesus couldn't say how far he'd fallen (he hadn't); couldn't go into the exciting details of his obscure non-existent drug habit, couldn't say how he'd rebelled in his teenage years. So his words before the event appear to have been restricted to telling John to get on with it, when the Baptist very reasonably asked him whether this all should be the other way round.

And so we're left wondering why he did it. Was baptised, that is.

Baptism is, among other things, a symbol of washing, and one of death and resurrection. We plunge down into the depths of the water dead and dirty, and then rise again to light and life, and we're clean. Jesus didn't need to be made "clean", but he chose to go through this symbol of washing. He didn't need to die to sin - but he was going to die because of sin. So he went through with this enactment of death - in the same way that three short years later, he refused to call a legion of angels to avoid his very-real death.

It's a solidarity thing, innit?  He didn't need to go through this, because he didn't need forgiveness. But he's standing alongside. He's sharing the experience. He's showing he's one of us - not like some publicity-seeking politician, living on a fiver a day for a fortnight, but like the saint who gives up a middle-class home and an easy life to live alongside the people on the streets. As St Jarvis put it about his rich girlfriend, if you want to live like the Common People then you've got to:
"Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right, cos when you're laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall, if you call your Dad he could stop it all."
The Baptism is Jesus saying that he won't call his Dad and ask him to stop it all. He's gonna receive the Spirit, get on with his job, face the demons in the desert, pick up his yoke, and turn his face to Jerusalem. He's gonna sing along with the Common People - all the way to the end.

Of course, I couldn't explain all that lot to the average (and they're very average, let me tell you) Beaker Person. So we sang "If I were a butterfly", and moulded papier-mâché into the shapes of our spiritual states. A lot easier to understand.

1 comment :

  1. talking baptisms and clothes reminds me of the picture by Mildred Eldridge of a "Chapel baptism on River Ceiriog below Portfadog Glyneiriog Valley, not often practised now as pneumonia follows without fail" (as it says on the back, as described in Recording Britain). It does look rather cold....


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