And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
January 8, 2021, Words By: Joel Aguilar, Image By: Unknown
I was baptized into an Evangelical church when I was seven years old and it was a terrible experience. My dad was the pastor of our church, so I was expected to be baptized. I went through the church’s discipleship program. I knew my creeds, prayers, and songs. And I had all the right answers for who God was and what Jesus did on the cross.
However, when the day to be baptized came around, I was terrified. I had so many doubts. Was God really even there? Was my decision to follow Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior genuine enough? Was I good enough for God just as I was? All the doubts made me want to get out of the whole baptism situation. But…I was the pastor’s kid, so that wasn’t an option.
When the time to be baptized came, I stood at the top step of the pool. My dad and a couple of elders from our church were waiting for me in the water. In retrospect, the whole thing was kind of weird. My dad was wearing slacks and a white button down shirt. The elders were dressed in plain clothes and I was wearing a white t-shirt.
As I made my way into the water, the congregation began singing hymns in the background. I could hear the words of Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, and other traditional songs. As I got deeper into the cold water, I started shivering. I’m not sure if I was having a panic attack or reacting to the icy water. Perhaps it was both.
My dad grabbed my hands and asked, “Do you believe in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” “I guess … I mean … yes.” I answered with a shy secrecy. Then, my dad leaned me back to submerge me in the water. At that moment, I slipped and fell completely into the water. I panicked because I thought I was going to drown. When they finally pulled me up I was gasping for air and vomiting all the water I had ingested.
And then, without realizing it, I said, “I ain’t doing this crap ever again!” As soon as I uttered those words, I realized my dad’s eyes were fixated on me with scorn and disbelief. Only the people in the pool heard what I said. The rest of the congregation applauded my baptism and kept singing hymns.
In many ways, this experience was symbolic of my early faith life—it was consecrated in fear and shame. It’s hard not to live into our consecration.
In this week’s text, Mark uses Jesus’s baptism symbolically to show that it’s the beginning of the end for him and his mission.
And it’s hard for me to read this story without laying my experience over top of it. I wonder if Jesus felt like he was drowning when he went under water. Did he know his life would end on a cross? I believe he did. But in order to stay true to the messianic secret in Mark, I imagine he just swallowed the water and came up with similar words in his head: “I ain’t doing this crap ever again!”
But there’s a key part where our stories diverge. Jesus didn’t surface to a disapproving stare. Instead, the heavens were torn apart by an affirmation: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Before he had even started his ministry or proven himself, he was reminded that right then and there, as he was, he was loved. More than that. He was liked.
The light of God’s love shone on Jesus, and it gave him something to reflect into the darkness.
This makes me wonder how our baptismal experience, literal or otherwise, affects what we reflect in the hard places of life. After all, as Mark shows us, part of the “epiphany” we experience in the baptismal waters is that suffering and pain are a part of the journey for someone who follows the forgiving victim.
But maybe the other part of the baptismal “epiphany,” the consecrated truth that we are both loved and liked by God, is there to hold us and animate us amidst the pain. The words of affirmation that tore heaven apart did not mean that Jesus was not going to suffer. The words uttered by the Spirit were meant to sustain Jesus in his walk towards the cross.