Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. Collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

Revised Common Lectionary readings may be found here.

Baptism of Christ, mosaic, detail, from Ravenna Baptistery, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity School.l
Baptism of Christ, mosaic, detail, from Ravenna Baptistery, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Whether it feels like a let-down or a relief, this week we are finally past Christmas. And in this year B, we jump headlong into the opening of Mark’s gospel and the baptism of Jesus by John. We read the opening verses of this tale, focusing on John’s role, during Advent. Now we get to the main event: Jesus’ baptism and God’s revelation to him. “You are my son, the Beloved…”

Mark’s story about Jesus’ baptism is like those told in the other gospels, save for one important detail: God’s message, both the opening of the heavens with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and the declaration of Jesus’ identity, was apparently perceived by Jesus alone, and not by the crowds around him This, of course, is fitting with Mark’s theme of secrecy. Not until Peter’s confession that Jesus is indeed the chosen one is that information made public. In fact, Jesus is quite clear that the disciples should not tell anyone what they have seen and heard until the time is right.

One way to think of this passage is as Jesus’ commissioning. No matter what Jesus might have thought or wondered about his identity and his role. there can be no question about his sense of identity now, and there can be no delaying of the beginning of his ministry. Similarly, in our own baptisms, our identity as Christ’s own is affirmed, and we are commissioned to live into that identity from that point onward, to grow into that reality, especially in those traditions, like my own, where infants are baptized. In our liturgy we will renew our baptismal covenant to bring this point home.

aptism of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
Baptism of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Baptism is central to our identity as Christians, and so this Sunday provides an opportune time to focus on that identity. What does it mean for us to be marked as Christ’s own, and to embrace a life dedicated to God? How do we live out those promises? How seriously do we take them, whether we make them for ourselves, or as parents and godparents, on behalf of our children? In this increasingly secular world, will baptism become more or less important for people of faith? Lots to consider here…

Where are you headed this week, preachers? Will you be doing baptisms? Renewing baptismal promises? Or taking another direction entirely, perhaps preaching on the creation story from Genesis? Wherever you’re going, or wondering where you might be going, join the conversation!

8 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary~Baptism edition

  1. Kris – I love that you included the Collect!
    My service will much like you describe yours – beginning on 299 in the Book of Common Prayer – reading Mark & the two ideas of Baptism in those short words – renewal of Baptismal covenant, etc.
    I am giving out Star Words this week – and challenging those present to think about how the word fits into their own commissioning by God.

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  2. I was struck by the idea (from Donald Juel) that Mark has the heavens torn open. Matthew and Luke soften it up, and just describe an opening. I’m musing on how baptism tears our lives open to God, in a way that can’t be neatly closed up again. It fits with Isaiah’s plea, in Advent, for God to tear open the heavens and come down, and now that has happened, in Jesus, as it also happens to us in baptism.

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  3. I’m connecting Genesis and Mark together — God spoke to create and God’s voice spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism. The spirit and the word are present at both. As I read your words above I am reminded that we are also installing new church officers this Sunday, in a sense commissioning, and I am intrigued by the idea of using star words as we talk about the power of words–God’s creative word and our own words. Words are so often insufficient and flawed, and yet words have power, especially God’s Word.

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  4. My sermon is called Baptism Stories and toward the ends of the sermon, I’ll be having folks share their own stories ( the who, what, where and when of their own baptism or one they remember) to their neighbor…I know I was 4 days old at my own baptism but I always heard the stories and looked at pictures of my baptism when I was older…

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  5. I am using all of the rcl passages together to shape a sermon titled, The Voice of Authority.

    Tonight I am thinking it will be about recognizing God’s Voice among all the voices and noises bombarding us every day. I’m not in th UCC but I beleve their denominational theme, God is Still Speaking, says it all. The challenge to all of us is: are we still listening and to which voice do we give authority in our lives.

    Someting like that.

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