Thursday, 18 March 2010

Passing thoughts on Christ's baptism - on the threshold between the desert and th promised land

I've had a busy, fascinating and interesting day today - ending with supper here at home with friends and great talk about research projects and the globalisation of ecumenism. Dr B is gradually getting better and was able to concentrate on conversation, cooking and having ideas, bringing books down from the upstairs archive - which was great.

Over morning coffee I met with a colleague who will preach for the very first time next Monday on World Water Day. We talked at some length about Christ's baptism and the theme of liberation it represented. In our conversation I mentioned how in Pierro della Francesca's painting of the baptism of Christ, Christ is depicted as standing on dry ground in the middle of the river and it struck me how Christ's baptism in the Jordan clearly places him on the threshold between the wanderings in the desert and the hope of the promised land.
The low place near the dead sea is a liminal place of hope between life and death. Until this morning's conversation it had never struck me like this before. I had never really thought of baptism quite so clearly in terms of liberation, entering into the promised land. It also really came to me in a new way that both the desert and the promised land are places where the Bible tells us it is possible to be close to God - both the nomadic cultures of the desert and the sedentary agriculture of the promised land are places of hope and of challenge. Liberation is possible in both contexts, as we symbolically rise up with Christ from the lowest point on earth we can follow a path of life hope and liberation in either the desert or the city.
The other thought I tried to develop is that the biblical promised land motif is of milk and honey, not of "prosperity for all" (Wohlstand für Alle). Simplicity and sweetness may seem like the promise of great wealth when you've been eating manna and quails but it is not the promise of palaces and huge riches. It is the promise of sustainable agriculture and harvesting semi-tamed wild food.
In the end my colleague chose a different Bible text for Monday's sermon but these sorts of conversations as we try to put together thoughts about theology, campaigns, work and liturgy always bear fruit in some way and certainly give us energy.