“You are Beloved — Mine Forever”
January 8, 2023
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’***
One of the memorable movies some years ago was “Tender Mercies.” It won Academy awards for Best Movie and Best Actor with Robert Duvall in the role of Mac Sledge, a country-western singing star whose life later dissolved into a fog of alcohol and shiftlessness. Divorced and estranged from his only daughter, one night Mac collapses onto the porch of a lonely little motel and gas station in the middle of rural Texas.
Rosa Lee, a widow with a young boy named Sonny operates the motel. She provides for Mac even as she struggles to make ends meet. Putting him to work, a transformation begins in Mac’s life. Over time he kicks his drinking, becomes a substitute father to Sonny and marries Rosa Lee. He starts attending the church where Rosa Lee sings in the choir.
One Sunday both Mac and Sonny are baptized. After the pastor dunks him into the waters of baptism, Mac stands, water dripping down off his balding head. It is a portrait of grace. Afterwards, Mac and Sonny are sitting outside the motel and Sonny says, “Well, we done it. We got baptized.” “Yup, we sure did,” Mac replies. “You feel any different?” the boy asks. Chuckling, Mac says, “I can’t say I do, not really.”
But the moviegoers knew by this point that Mac was different. Deep down on the inside of his heart and soul, Mac is a changed man by the grace which has come into his life. Outwardly there has been change, too. Yet, it doesn’t make life any easier.
In the course of the film Mac finds a manifestation of grace in a reconciliation with his young adult daughter. But shortly after, she dies in a car crash. Near the end of the film, still grieving, Mac stands in the middle of a vegetable garden and tells Rosa Lee that he doesn’t understand life. He can’t understand the tender mercies of God that led him to Rosa Lee and to the transformation his life so badly needed. But then, he can’t understand why his daughter had to die, either.
We often hear people pondering why bad things happen in life, but Mac is honest enough to admit to being equally flummoxed by the good things.
Grace can be as arresting as tragedy.
Grace and tragedy, the good and the bad, co-exist in this life. Yet, Christians hold to the divine claim made in baptism while moving through this world. Beloved. By water and the Spirit.
Pure grace. We say that the one thing that makes the difference for us is the one thing that, by all outward appearances, seems like it could not possibly make any difference: baptism. In a world so full of problems and tragedies, evil and dread, how could baptism make a dent?
Baptism is saturated in hope. An enduring, unshakable promise given by the Divine. Beloved. Mine. Adopted into the family of God.
Jesus, raised from the waters of the Jordan River, became the hope for those who followed him, inviting them to discover a new way to live in the world, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, realizing that the reign of God is already among us, with us, and within us.
Hope must be as tangible as despair. The greater the chaos, the greater our hope. Whatever waters wage around us, we remember God hovering over the surface of the deep, the people of God walking through the parted sea, and the son of God rising from the river to hear the words that echo at every baptism to follow: “You are beloved — mine forever.”
“Baptism of Jesus,” by Donald Jackson, The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, MN.
John figures prominently at the front, while a very small, golden-colored Jesus (this color signifies the divine throughout the SJB) is almost lost in the crowd of people around him and the golden heavens opening up above him. John appears to be walking away, palm open, stepping aside for the one he has proclaimed to take his rightful place as the connection between heaven and earth. His work is done and — a picture of his humility and consent: he does as God wills and he gets out of the way for what God will do next.