Baptism of our Lord
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.
Had you the necessary means, and made the necessary arrangements, you could visit Yardenit. Yardenit is the official Israeli site for baptism, famous for being a pilgrimage site to over five hundred thousand people each year. It is a visitor centre just south of the river outlet of the Sea of Galilee, with long baptism rails built directly into the Jordan river. One tour company advertises that if you would like to be baptised there, you may hire or buy white garments from the centre, book a priest to baptise you, and as long as you leave about an hour and a half for the whole undertaking, you would have no issue rejoining your group.
Three months ago, on the 19th October, four hundred Palestinian civilians sheltered from Israeli missiles in the Church of Saint Porphyrius, an ancient church in the Old City of Gaza. Sain tPorphyrius has long been used as a refuge for people of differing religions. One
Christian father, named Fadi to protect his identity, said that before it was bombed, and dozens were injured with eighteen dead, he thought churches were meant to be safe spaces. What has followed this strike has been a coming together of hope and desperation, and finding community out of isolation and loss. Collective baptisms of Palestinian Christian children and infants were initiated in other churches because of this attack. Children were presented for baptism by parents who feared that their youngest and most vulnerable would inevitably die in the future crossfire of targeted attack. In one of these ceremonies, Fadi’s young daughter was baptised. Invitations to baptismal ceremonies are often extended to the wider community, but these ceremonies were made up of the fearful, the collateral, the Christian community in the Holy Land. 
The point of this story is not a lesson in God’s recognition of unbaptised infants. The point of each of these baptismal settings, the thousands of pilgrims visiting Yardenit, the
strange and fearful group of new parents, and John the baptiser, clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, is what will happen next. New Testament scholar Ched Myers writes that “we… must begin where [the Gospel writer] Mark begins: with the call to repentance – [the Greek] metanoia – [which] must be understood not in our modern sense, as strictly personal angst or guilt, but in the Hebrew sense, as the admission of our solidarity with historical injustice.” 
Ongoing retaliation and retribution from both sides of Israeli and Palestinian forces is one facet of wider deep and historical injustice: this historical injustice where, in the words of Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, there is a meeting of “three faiths, one root, one earth, one mother, one broken heart, one God.”  As in all war, the same God who has named, loved, created and adored each and every example of humanity – the same Genesis God who swept over the face of the waters and called the darkness Night – is the God who weeps with every single loss, regardless of sides.
Where do we go from here, and what will we do with the time allotted to us?
Our own baptismal promises, of renouncing all that is evil, of turning and returning to Christ, of repenting – the deep thinking about how live in the world – these are the promises we make when we are baptised. They are the hopeful intentions of encouragement we make on behalf of a child whose care is entrusted to parents and sponsors. For Jesus, spluttering up with fresh river water up his nose, in his eyes, his clothing heavy and plastered wet to his chest, the sky opens and the heavens are torn apart. One scholar writes, “This is not a gentle cranking open of a window, but a violent wrenching of a hold in a ceiling that bounds heaven and earth. ‘Tearing’ does not happen neatly, or with a tool… Mark uses this same language at the moment of Jesus’ death when the temple veil, also a symbolic barrier between God and creation, is torn in two, perhaps by God’s grief.”
The contemporary example of baptism in Gaza reflects the response to deep negation of the
sacredness of life and community through intentional violence. If we abide in a God who grieves each loss, each failure to see the humanity on the other side of the divide, then we see the heavens touched by grief again and again. This grieving God, the God who weeps over the death of Jesus and each Beloved, is the foundation of the dying and resurrection of our own baptism. The Christ we identify with is the resurrected one, the bringer of unending renewal, rebirth, and hope.
Who we are and whose we are, each one an image bearer of the God who calls us to be awake and alive and loving, is what we have promised to be. We have promised to remember that God has named us as God’s own, and we are called to become more of who we are. We welcome and applaud the baptised into the community of faith and humanity. We have also been called to belong to each other, and to the witness, encouragement, and safeguarding of one another. We a marked for the singular purpose of our work in the communal body, and named by God. In Mark’s Gospel, we don’t even know that anyone else at the river could see the heavens torn apart, the moment that heaven is touched by earth. Jesus is named beloved by the same God whose love thunders over the waters. What we do know is that what happens from here is full of promise, full of hope in the one in whom God is pleased to dwell. Our own baptism is the witness of this very same Beloved, the one who will die on the cross, who will carry the suffering of each, and of all. In our baptism, we die into burial with this Christ, and are re-birthed into the resurrected hope that is given to us. This is the resurrected Jesus we identify with, when we are baptised.
So, where do we go from here? How is our own baptism full of promise, full of hope?
In the spirit of Ched Myers, it might help to move from a political reading of our earlier story to our own embodied and corporate intention for our baptismal promises: the promises we make in turning away from selfish living, from sin, Satan and all evil. In speaking about the radical discipleship movement in Mark’s Gospel, Myers says that it is not enough to simply reject and turn away from historical and cultural patterns of injustice: turning away also mean turning towards something. As we go from this place, remembering our baptismal promises here, now, today, how might those promises take form for you?
I turn to Christ.
I turn towards the one who is made for peace, who moves with, lives and dies with, those who suffer most.
I move to shape my life as if I am beloved.
I repent of my sins.
I move towards the mark of self-awareness, uncovering and stepping into the river of grace and mercy that dwells within me.
I reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust.
I take up name of the gentle and giving spirit.
I walk respectfully on the soil, and seek to act with justice and solidarity with those whose value is undermined.
I renounce Satan and all evil.
I hear truth.
I listen deeply to my neighbour.
I enfold to me what is life-giving.
I encourage you to live into the meaning of God’s name for you.
I rejoice in the knowledge that my wellbeing also depends on yours.
May we go from this place into the promise of who we are: made to be image bearers, and called to be peace bearers.
Let us pray,
God of the tearing heaven,
whose holiness is unveiled
by one who is submerged
in all the pain and sin of earth:
give us faith to follow him
who goes to the heart of darkness
bearing only the Spirit
of gentle, insistent peace;
through Jesus Christ, the promised one.
 Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s story of Jesus. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008), 450.
 Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/2020-08/prayers-for-peace-in-the-middle-east.pdf
 Leah McKell Horton, “Mark 1:9-11” in Feasting on the Gospels, ed. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, Mark, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 11.
 Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 451.
 Shakespeare, Steven, Prayers for an Inclusive Church (New York: Church Publishing, 2009), 47.