Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thoughts About Pentecost

I wonder about the fisherman Jesus called out of the Sea of Galilee, and if they were baptized. Scripture doesn’t tell us if those that Jesus called to leave their nets and fish for people were dunked in the Jordan River by John before Jesus came on the scene. John the Baptizer warned his converts that there was more to it than immersion. That was just the beginning. The Bible gives us only one account of Jesus continuing the practice of baptism. He and John were both in the Judean countryside, at “Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized.” (John 3:23)

How could you baptize fishermen who waded in water day in and day out, who’d caught their feet in nets of floundering fish and been pinned under water, nearly drowned on several occasions? A lengthy immersion, a holding underwater until the last of their breath escaped their lungs in futile bubbles as they surrendered to death? Or dry baptism, the mud and muck of riverbank ground into their skin? What would feel most like giving up an old life and becoming a new creature?

Maybe if they were baptized along with the three thousand on Pentecost in Jerusalem, a desert city without river or sea, a solitary drop was all they could expect. I think about Peter, exercising his voice outside the upper room where he’d been hiding with the disciples after Jesus left for good, wondering, worrying what would happen next. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit, and not new wine, he spontaneously combusted, along with his friends, speaking a language that was universal for the first time since the tower of Babel fell and speech scattered with it.

I imagine women rushing back and forth to wells, filling their jugs, presenting them to the disciples who cupped their hands, poured water over the converts’ heads, perhaps extravagantly at first until the heat rose, the women slowed, the heavy jugs arrived more infrequently, those waiting in line growing restless, the baptism going from a pour to a trickle, to a drop, and when the water ran out, the disciples, perhaps remembering their master’s use of spit to heal, smearing saliva across the foreheads of those remaining, until the last of the new believers was marked in baptism.

No one writes about the three thousand the day after Pentecost. Were they nicer to their employees, more tolerant of their spouses’ annoying habits? Did they pray more fervently? Did they build shrines in the backyard? Did they sign on with disciples, or go door-to-door sharing their experience in attempts to start a new church?

John said someone else was coming who was going to baptize with fire. We received that ignition at Pentecost. That branding was intended to sear us into family, scar us for life, leaving marks no one could ignore or forget. Now, having been lit by the spirit, how do we follow Jesus into the flames?

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