Baptism of our Lord Sunday is about identity … Jesus’ identity as Son of God … and our identity as children of God. Baptism is at the heart of both these identities.
In Jesus’ day, that identity was shaped through sermons spoken from hillsides and sermons preached from boats. If Jesus’ came to our world that would work. He would have to use media.
He’d probably start with streaming videos on Hulu and Google Play. But eventually he’d have to tap the major movie market. So I thought we might explore some movies from our era that Jesus could have considered … movies in which water was a central image.
Let’s start with the movie Adrift. It is a great place to begin our relationship with Jesus, because some of us find ourselves disconnected from parts of our lives … people, communities, avocations. we drift through life trying to find out homeland. But, of course, life is more than just being adrift.
Sometimes the water around us is far more hostile, and storms surround us, as happens in the movie The Perfect Storm. As individuals, those storms may involve the death of a loved one … the loss of a job … an estrangement from someone we cherish. As communities, the storms we face have the sound of guns being fired in schools, and politicians yelling at each other from across the aisle … and racist and misogynistic slurs leveled at minorities in our midst. It is a good movie image, but still inadequate. Because this storm wins … the Andrea Gail sinks.
What about this movie? Waterworld! Water is everywhere here. Baptismal imagery surrounds us. It’s a perfect answer to the storms in our lives … or is it? Can water itself be the problem? Baptism is central to us, but it is not a God itself. We have two sacraments, Baptism and Communion. And the Word of God is a sacramental presence in each of them. A world of water may not be he answer we need after all.
But what about one of the greatest water stories ever told … Titanic! It uses love and relationship to overcome the struggles in life. We love Jesus and Jesus loves us, so doesn’t this work for us? Unfortunately, Titanic is a “different” kind of love story. Think of the scene that Jack and Rose play out in the storage area for cars. Yeah, this is definitely a “different” kind of love story.
So let’s try going retro. How about going way back to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Here the problems of the world are solved by the Nautilus, which can dive deep into the sea and destroy warships. It is the kind of solution that historically has not been embraced by the church crowd because Captain Nemo’s appointing himself a god who judges life and death.
So how about a different iconic sea monster … the Great White. In Jaws, the great white becomes the ultimate evil in its consistent consumption of summer tourists swimming at a posh resort community. It is a death machine. And isn’t our ultimate enemy in life “death” itself? Jaws fits the bill for Jesus “salvation through water” … except that sharks keep coming back in Jaws 2, Jaws 3 and Jaws The Revenge.
I know! What we need is a super-hero. One who will do battle for us! Aquaman! The perfect solution. And we get a hot-Jesus clone to boot. The only problem here is that Jesus didn’t come to us as a super hero. He embraced the brokenness of humanity to the point of death. No … a super hero won’t work.
Maybe we need a different focus … a philosophical one. In The Abyss a rescue crew encounters a unique and powerful presence deep within the ocean. But that presence in an alien … literally. And though kind, we are not about to get into “alien-Jesus” solutions to our woes.
What about “depth” of a different kind? In Life of Pi, the depth is what Pi PAtel finds in his more than 200-day sojourn on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. HE encounters wisdom and insight, like this great quote from the movie.
The only problem is that God is the one who chooses us in baptism. God calls us to be children of God before we can anything besides poop in our diaper and scream to be fed. With all due respect to the wonderful character of Pi, God is the one who initiates the gift of relationship with our maker and redeemer.
We could go a on and on with our “water” movies. Finding Nemo … The Shape of Water … The Little Mermaid … The River Runs Through It. Each of these movies could offer us some message or perspective worth considering.
We could even consider Snow Day … because snow is just frozen water, right? But in the end those who search for cinematic baptismal imagery typically come back to the same place.
Do you know where this scene is from? Correct! The Shawshank Redemption. It is called the “Baptism Scene” in the movie. Andy Dufresne has spent fifteen years slowly carving a tunnel in the 10 foot deep wall to his cell, so as to allow him to pummel a hole into a prison sewer pipe one evening under the cover of a thunderstorm. He then crawls 500 yards through human filth and decay to the exit of that sewer pipe in a small creek outside the perimeter of Shawshank Prison.
As Andy stands and lifts his eyes and arms to the sky, you are invited to see the rain which is washing away the filth from Andy’s body, as a baptism into a new life of freedom. He has a new legal identity awaiting him, along with a bank account that will get him started in a new life. But his “baptism” sets things in motion.
Andy’s friend from Shawshank, Red, offers these words about his more conventional release from Shawshank through the parole system. It anticipates an ultimate reunion with Andy, and a new identity for Red, too. Those who follow Jesus know the conclusion of the journey we take toward Jesus. But we possess the same excitement around the new identity we will receive in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen