Looking at the collection of readings for this Sunday in the Episcopal Church, I found myself humming the tune "Wade in the Water." God enters into a covenant with Noah and his family after they'd survived the 40 days and 40 nights in the ark with the animals. God lets them know he won't try to drown the human race again, and instead puts a "bow" in the sky... a rainbow... as a sign of the covenant God was making with Noah. It makes me think, "If God doesn't love gay people, why did he put a rainbow in the sky?"
The first letter of Peter has the author drawing a parallel between the ordeal Noah and his family endured floating on the water in the ark for so long with the water we experience on our heads at the time of our baptism. Water which, with a blessing, becomes a symbol of the same act that John the Baptizer would do with Jesus in the Mark gospel story. Jesus goes to his cousin, John, and John takes Jesus into the river to baptize him. In Noah's case, the waters of chaos and destruction were like a baptism of all creation as God had lost patience with the downward moral spiral of humanity. The flood, in that sense, cleanses the planet. For the author of the Peter letter, Jesus brings into the baptismal experience a cleansing of the sin committed by the flesh. That may sound a little drastic for us in the Episcopal Church since we baptize babies. What type of sin could they have committed with their flesh? Is being human a sin?
I would say "None, and no," to those questions. Too often, we get hung up on thinking that "sin" and "flesh" goes back to that dichotomy of "body=bad, spirit=good." I don't think the body is bad. And I don't think babies at age 3-6 months have "done" anything that is particularly sinful. I prefer to see an infant baptism not as a way of necessarily washing away sin, but rather as a way for Christ to lay claim to a child. This is the beginning of this child wading into the same troublesome waters that Christ found himself in as he navigated the world of his time. And while a child in the 21st century may not hear a booming voice saying, "This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased," I believe they are surrounded with a cloud of witnesses who affirm them as new members of the community and pledge that this child will never walk alone. Because Christ, both the invisible and the visible, is now with them forever.
And like Christ, they may find themselves bearing the symbol of baptism, and yet being driven into the wilderness to contend with the Tempter. I have known what it is to be in a desert place with only the nagging of doubt, the lure of fame and fortune, and the promises of empty reward laid before me. I have wrestled with the belief that God couldn't possibly love the likes of me because society (including the church) was feeding me a false gospel that my kind were not part of the kingdom. I have had to listen closely to that small, still voice of God as the noise of others have tried to pull me off the path of following God's lead as I navigate the direction of where this spiritual journey is taking me. When I had to make a decision about whether I should continue in journalism or follow my heart and go to massage school, I consider that a time when I had to pay attention to where God was taking me, and not where others expected me to go.
Lent is very much like a baptism. It's the time when we can gather ourselves in rememberance of our relationship to Christ who has been through the waters of baptism and into the desert himself, and continues to take that journey with us in keeping the promise that we are never alone. We will never be drowned, and we will never go dry. Like Christ, we are beloved. And like Christ, we must go from that place of being beloved and surrounded by a cloud of witnesses into the world... with Christ.