The Baptism of the Lord
( Isaiah 42: 1 – 4, 6 – 7; Ps:29; Acts 10: 34 – 38; Mark 1: 7 – 11)
We believe in the total “otherness” of God, beyond time, beyond limits, in a word “Almighty.” God is everywhere and therefore we can encounter God, be engaged with God anywhere. However, in our humanity we cannot really comprehend “everywhere”; the sky is everywhere yet I can only comprehend the sky I see.
So our God, in guiding Israel in their journey through the desert, had Moses and the people construct with great detail and artistry a meeting tent, a place they could see, a place where in their gathering, the high priest, in their name, could enter and encounter God, where God could engage Himself with a human. There are a number of chapters in the Books of Exodus and Numbers giving the details of the decorations, the curtains, etc.; we read these chapters because they are the Sacred Word but, perhaps with a question: “what does this mean for me?”
The great Scripture scholar of the early church, Origen, wrote, “All Scripture is symbolic”and in that he put his finger on the mystery of the Word – in the Sacred Word there is always much more than we can read, hear, understand in one or many hearings or listenings. What then does this “meeting-tent” signify, what does it mean for us?
I believe it has something important to say about the mystery of the Incarnation, of the reality of our Lord Jesus, God and Man. In His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, divinity and humanity met, began an engagement that will never end – Jesus became the living “meeting tent”. Today in celebrating the Baptism of the Lord, we celebrate, acknowledge the revelation of this truth – over the baptized Jesus, son of God, son of Mary the Spirit descended and the Father’s voice was heard “You are My beloved Son with You I am well pleased.”
In Jesus God and humanity meet, engaged forever in a relationship that affects us intimately. In Hebrew the word “meeting” comes from a verb meaning “to meet” but also “to betroth” – with that there is the nuance of engagement, of intimacy, of duration. Jesus is the incarnate, living meeting-tent and on this day of His baptism we celebrate His mystery and also our mystery, the reality of our own Baptism into Him. We are of Him, in Him, with Him – engaged, enlivened, enlightened as we share in His union of divinity and humanity.
Therefore our lives are engaged in Him at all times and in all circumstances. As Cistercian monks this is our witness to the Church; it is our service to the Church – called to this, graced to live this faithfully, monastically in the Cistercian spirit. Our monastery of Our Lady of the Genesee is truly a meeting-tent – our place of engagement, of intimacy with God, of union with one another.
But the sacred meeting-tent is not our monopoly – not limited to Genesee; it is everywhere because the mystery of the Lord Jesus is everywhere. Wherever a person is in a living, faith relationship with God, the meeting is taking place, the engagement is being celebrated. And in this meeting, whatever be our vocation, we are held by God and in turn, we hold God. Finiteness holding Infinity!
There has to be a response that goes beyond words, prayers, hymns, a response from our hearts, our depths since we are so engaged with God and God with you, with me. St. Luke in Acts, briefly and clearly, states that response: to fear God, to live with reverence for God – to act uprightly, to live as Jesus teaches us. We are truly people of the “meeting-tent” and may we hear, each one of us, the Father’s word: “You are my beloved with you I am well pleased.”