When I was a child “Cool Clear Water” was one of my father’s favorite songs. When my dad sang this song you knew he was in a good mood. At least for the time being, all was right with the world. After a long hard day’s work at the hospital, my dad would come home and descend the stairs to putter in the basement. He would build shortwave radios or polish his wing-tipped shoes. And he would sing this ballad about desert Dan.
All day I’ve faced a barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water
Cool, clear, water
Keep a-movin, Dan, dontcha listen to him, Dan
He’s a devil, not a man
He spreads the burning sand with water
Dan, can ya see that big, green tree?
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waitin’ there for me and you?
The nights are cool and I’m a fool
Each star’s a pool of water, cool water
But with the dawn I’ll wake and yawn
And carry on to water
Water, water, water
Cool, clear, waterMarty Robbins
Cool, clear, water
When my dad sang this song, I knew that I was safe. I knew that danger would not darken our door. I knew that no matter what trouble I managed to get into that day, that my dad would forgive me. I was his beloved third-child, after all.😊
It was kind of sacramental, a renewing little liturgy reenacted in our basement all those years ago.
Not as climactic as the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, of course😊. But there is a little domestic daily ritual that echoes it — bath time for little beloved-ones.💧💦💧
Any of you who have ever given a little one a bath will know what I am talking about. Immersed in bath water, babies wriggle and squirm. It is beyond their comprehension why you would subject them to such torture. They don’t realize there is dried milk behind their ears and stuff between their toes. They are oblivious to the dirt, they just don’t care. But their parental units do! And they are going to give that baby a bath whether they like it or not.
And out of the water comes a child, a beloved child, wrapped in a towel, clean and new. And no matter how awful they have been, no matter how they have tried your patience, no matter how much mess they have gotten into — out of that bath emerges a crazy little beloved kid — cleansed and renewed.
Now, in the Christian tradition this most basic of traditions is baptism, of course. Like a bath, baptism is not just something we believe in, it is something we are called to do. My favorite explanation of baptism comes from a book “Deep Waters” by a VTS theologian:
Consider the sheer pleasure of a warm bath or a hot shower. Consider the process of bathing from head to toe. Consider all the cleansing rituals described in scripture: foot washing, anointing with oil, and of course, Baptism.
Now Baptism is not just an idea nor is it simply a symbol. Baptism is gospel. It’s God’s good news of deliverance. Bathe in it. Soak in it. Let it wash over you body and soul.“Deep Waters: An Introduction to Baptism,” Marianne H. Micks
Ironically, early Christians in the time of St. Augustine, when preparing for their baptism, gave up baths for Lent! Historically, the public Roman baths get a bad wrap. No one had plumbing at home, you see, and their heated waters met a very practical need. But they also had come to represent participation in a pretty low-down and dirty world. Hedonism and excess indulgence had ascended to cultural norms. Those who frequented the baths seemingly embraced a life soiled by sin. So, all through Lent, these baby Christians would literally go around unclean.
On Easter Eve, naked as jaybirds, they would be led to the watery pool set in the cathedral floor, and submerged with their savior. When they arose from the water, they were given clean white robes: forgiven, beloved, and born again.
In the Gospel, Jesus does not preach Baptism nor does he tell a parable about it. He does it. For us, of course, but more importantly he does it with us. Deep in his soul, convicted in his flesh, John’s words moved Jesus to step forward out of the crowd; out of a crowd of ne’er-do-wells, just like us.
Down under the water, he goes, submerging with him all of our weakness, all of our frailty, bathing us in his Spirit, clothing us in Christ, so that we might emerge with him recognizing whom we have always been — children of God.
Good news, right? Good news for little Georgia Willingham last week and good news for little George Pheiffer-Russell this week! As we welcome George and his parents, grandparents, and godparents to the font, together with them, we will re-affirm our own baptismal faith — with celebratory words from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.
Praise be to God who has given us life.
Blessed be God for the gift of love.
Praise to God who forgives our sin.
Blessed be God who sets us free.
Praise to God who kindles our faith.
Blessed be God, our strength and hope.
Let us, the baptized affirm that we commit ourselves to Christ.
Blessed be God. Jesus is Lord!
Good news for all of God’s children. Good news for the. whole wide world.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog