Today, in the season of Epiphany we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John. The season is that of celebrating the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ, not only to the Jews but to all peoples, fulfilling the prophecy to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the world should be blessed.
During the week I visited the National Gallery to see Maggi Hambling's ‘Walls of Water’ paintings. These powerful images represented water whilst being totally unlike water. I stayed wth them for quite a while, and being present to them felt not only the strength of the waves which they represented, but saw in the images faces of animals, birds and of people hidden within the water. The depths of meaning and laughter within these forceful waves seemed to go on and on. Close up of course one could see that they were just a positioning of paint on canvas.
Outside in Trafalgar Square was the beginning of a tribute, Je Suis Charlie. I had to work hard to think about what it meant. Being from the country and not a great follower of the media I hadn’t caught on.
Of course we all know now, and stand with the French in solidarity.
Today the set reading within the Gospel of Mark speaks of the Baptism of Jesus. It is a poignant moment for today as Jesus identifies himself absolutely alongside humanity. As Charlie, Ahmed, Jew, each one of us Jesus stands before creation and before God. His total identification is more powerful than leaders gathering in Paris, than crowds filling the streets, but perhaps a much quieter affair.
Accompanying this reading is a piece from the book of Acts where Paul visits nascent Christians in Ephesus. It transpires that they have received the baptism of John, for repentance, but not yet the baptism of Jesus. In their baptism they receive the infilling of the Spirit of God, so that not only do they acknowledge and receive the solidarity of Jesus standing with us in our sin, and our fear of death. In addition they can say Je Suis God. I am standing with God in the glory and majesty, the humility and self-giving which is part of God’s self revealing to the world.
The image is, of course, entirely unlike God. Close up we can see the brush strokes, and identify the paints used. Standing back a little, and giving time and space to the images of today we can see the face of God, and glimpse laughter.
Sarah Cawdell lives in Shropshire with her husband and three teenage children.