These last few weeks, these holy days, are a good time to relax and watch movies, or so I’ve heard, since I work in a church. I tend to resist watching animated movies, but the last time our friends Fr. Mitch and Beth and their son Eliot were here, we watched the movie Cars about 4 times, and I loved every minute of it. Pastor Tim Boggess’ favorite animated movie is Finding Nemo, his “favorite scene in the movie Finding Nemo takes place at the very end, after the credits begin to roll. The heart of the story is already over. After a harrowing journey across the sea, Marlin, the father clownfish, has been reunited with his son, Nemo, who had been taken from his home on the Great Barrier Reef and ended up in the fish tank of a Sydney dentist. And they all lived happily ever after. The end. Well, not quite.
“You see, the fish who had helped Nemo escape from the tank had managed to free themselves, too. While their tank is being cleaned, they manage to roll the plastic bags they’re in along the counter, out the window, across the street, and into Sydney Harbor. When the last one finally reaches the water, there is a collective cheer and sigh of relief. And then the reality of their situation dawns upon them. Bobbing in the ocean, still encased in a thin layer of plastic, Bloat, the puffer fish, breaks the silence with the words: “Now what?””1
Now what? The last few weeks were spectacular, the parish was decked out like it was Christmas, because it was, and we celebrated again the birth of our Lord and Savior in a manner becoming of the occasion. We celebrated the Epiphany, the Manifestation (what a great word) of Our Lord to the Gentiles, to the whole undeserving world, and we have blessed or will bless our houses. But now it seems some of the greens have gone wherever the greens go after the Epiphany; the candles are packed away, the creche is sealed in Tupperware, and please, for the love of all that is holy, take some of these poinsettias home with you this morning.
But again, now what?
Well, just as Advent and Christmas brought Jesus through His conception and birth, occasions that we shared in too as human beings, the next thing we visit is Jesus’ baptism, another occasion that we, hopefully, all share in.
Jesus’ baptism was probably not much like yours or mine. Mine was quiet, like most are, and I was too young to remember it, probably much like most of you. That same friend Fr. Mitch had a clown present at his baptism, which attaches his baptism to that improbable and somewhat disconcerting presence.
There were probably no clowns at Jesus’ baptism, but there were some fireworks, so to speak. Jesus comes out of the water and the sky was literally ripped apart. Mark’s “word for ‘torn apart’ is schizo, and it means “to cleave, to cleave asunder, to rend.” It’s a strangely violent word to describe such a happy occasion. The way we tend to talk about baptism, it would have made more sense if Mark had talked about the dove, gently cooing, or perhaps fluttering over the surface of the water. But that is not how he talks about it.
“Instead, Mark talks about the heavens, schizo, torn apart. It’s the word Matthew, Mark and Luke all use to describe that moment on Good Friday when the curtain of the temple is torn in two. It’s the word John uses when the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross determine not to tear Jesus’ garment and divide it between them, but to cast lots for it, instead. It’s a word with resonances in the prophecies of Isaiah, also, particularly when Isaiah says to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” (Isaiah 63:19).”2
This is the “now what?” The adventure of Jesus being born into our lives, ripping the heavens open; who, if we follow Him, will lead us into things greater than we could ever ask or imagine. Who, through our baptisms, has made us beloved adopted sons and daughters of His Father. So our question today isn’t Now What now that Christmas is over, but rather Now What will we be, having come out of the waters of baptism.
1The Rev. Timothy T Boggess, http://day1.org/1191-in_the_hole_he_goes
2The Rev. Maxwell Grant, http://day1.org/6319-torn_open_by_god