I am just now remembering walking with my grandmother on the sidewalk. It must have been summer. She was wearing one of what she called her camp shirts: short-sleeve, button-down V-necks in various pastels and floral prints. She insisted upon those shirts up until the end, even when the buttons became vexing to her palsied hands and her children alike. A man, rather grizzled looking, passed us and then called out, “Hey, you too?” and pulled down the collar of his T-shirt to reveal a vertical white scar at his collarbone. Flustered, my grandmother hurried me along. She didn’t like strangers, much less chatty ones. But I asked what the man meant, and she explained that they’d both had open-heart surgery. That was fascinating to me, that older people recognize others with their same physical realities just like kids do, like someone else with a skinned knee or broken arm or missing front tooth with a little space they can put their tongue in as a badge of pride.
Each January, Bible readings offer us the baptism of Christ and invite us to remember the network we hold in common: a people who believe that when the heavens open in the beginning of Mark (or Matthew), God is doing something new. God already split the waters of the Red Sea with Moses and the Jordan River with Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha. But by splitting the heavens, God is going back earlier, to the beginning when the earth was separated into day and night, form and void, heavens punching out into the firmament above and the sea below, back to that originality—and laying claim to Jesus within that. In the rite of baptism, that same elemental water touches us and initiates us into the tribe of people who believe in Jesus’ Messiahship.
What does it mean to be part of that confessional collective? It is a worthy question in any year but particularly in this one. In any given year people will have become parents or widowers or spouses or graduates or unemployed. This year, many became for the first time protesters and canvassers and questioners.
This was a year of awakenings for so many. We have circled around yet again to ask whether health care, education, clean water, sustainable earth, nuclear peace, racial equality, and trust in first responders are goods we hold dear. We have begun to ask as well whether affordable child care and sexual consent and addiction treatment and economic equality and careful control of powerful weapons are also goods we ought to hold dear, dear enough to put money and policy behind them.
Being a baptized people in this moment means we are invited to think of our collective confession—as every age before us has done, yet also uniquely in this moment. What will our resolutions be for this year ahead as the tribe of the baptized, as those identifiable to one another as people who believe that God did a new thing in Jesus?