Our lesson from the Gospel of John is about another John – most often referred to as John the Baptist. I’ve run into people who think that this John’s title made him a member of a Baptist church. So, for the record, he was not a member of any church. He got his title because he was notorious for dipping people in the Jordan River.
One of the peculiar things about the writing John’s portrait of the dipping John is that we never see him actually dipping Jesus. Instead the dipping John tells us that he saw the Spirit descending like a dove and remaining on Jesus. The other Gospels tell us that this happened when Jesus was being dipped in the Jordan River, but this Gospel never mentions that part.
That’s odd. But then the Gospel of John is the oddest of the four Gospels. It tells a very long version of Jesus Last Supper too, where Jesus gives a very long-winded speech. But it never bothers to mention that moment when Jesus broke bread and shared a cup of wine. Like Jesus’ baptism, you’d think a Gospel writer might have remembered to mention this other pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry – but not John.
John’s Gospel is not an exact photograph of what Jesus said and did. None of the Gospels are. They dwell instead on the constantly unfolding meaning of what Jesus said and did. When Jesus’ first followers found themselves sharing in Jesus’ risen life, everything they remembered about Jesus before and during his execution became so full of meaning that there was no end to expressing it. They couldn’t even remember what Jesus said and did without exploring the meaning that was still unfolding for them.
So instead of showing us Jesus’ baptism, this writing John has the dipping John telling us all about what it means when Jesus shows up. The dipping John sees Jesus as a Passover Lamb, but much more than any ordinary lamb. In Jesus this John realizes that the true Passover Lamb is God the Word, who becomes flesh, lives among us and plunges us into the life of the Spirit. That’s the baptism that matters most.
So now, almost twenty centuries later, when we meet and listen to stories like this and share bread and wine, we too are sharing in Jesus’ risen life, in its endlessly unfolding meaning. We ourselves become irreplaceable parts of that unfolding meaning, plunged into the life of the Spirit. Who knew?