Initiations are weird and old and cool…
Throughout history, cultures have had various ways of entering adulthood (both men and women), joining a group or tribe, and/or beginning next stages of life. Initiations are weird and old. There’s a few commonalities crossing over cultures and time but each one is unique as well.
In postmodern culture our initiations tend to be forgotten or minimized as we may appreciate ancient traditions, but less formally observe them. I didn’t have something related to a Jewish bar mitzvah and my sister had nothing like a quinceanera. Some cultures still embrace these ceremonial next steps beautifully. If you think about it though, these celebrations and initiations could serve wonderful purposes.
Baptism is basically Jesus initiation…
Seeing as initiation is simply the action of beginning something, faith communities who follow Jesus have had initiation since the beginning. Jesus demonstrated a beautiful picture of dying and raising again using water. To this day churches use this initiation every wee to welcome people into their community.
This past week I was asked to baptize a man in our church. He’s new. To Downtown Faith and faith in Jesus. I was happy to do it. He wanted to go out into nature and experience his own initiation into the faith. So, we went to Nelson’s Landing, stepped our feet into the Colorado River and I dunked him.
It was beautiful. The sun was rising just over the mountains. you could hear the birds as their dark silhouettes swooped just over the water. The water was clean and clear. The rocks so many different colors and shapes. The water was like glass, only interrupted by our subtle movements.
For this man, baptism, on his birthday, in the river, early in the morning meant everything it is supposed to mean. New life. New days. Rebirth. Death to self. Resurrected in Jesus. Death. Then life. Newness. A new direction. A new way of living. A new way of seeing the world. All captured in a moment. A somewhat dark, yet bright moment. Calming and disturbing at the same time.
He took this celebration a step further. We climbed a hill to a cliff over-looking the peaceful river. From about 30-feet above the river he took off running and jumped. I couldn’t help but think that this part of the day might be the most significant. The truer picture of faith in Jesus. Jumping. Risking. Danger. Feeling alive. This is what Jesus has in mind for his followers. For those who really commit there’s a new life, but not a boring one.
All too often the initiation of people into faith in Jesus is about safety and comfort. But I think Jesus had other things in mind. Jesus was great at disrupting and disturbing the comfortable and powerful. He took his first disciples to the brink of what they knew to be living. From fishing to dying in gloriously violent ways for the cause of Christ, the love of others, and the glory of God. The disciples followed Jesus into a life they could have and never even would have imagined.
Baptism is a beautiful picture of dying to self and rising for Jesus. But we must not forget the life Jesus lived. Just over three years and he was killed. It was not safe. It was not culturally normal or ordinary. He lived, died, and lived again for something bigger than this world could offer. An initiation into the life and family of Jesus is open to everyone but truly lived, not for the faint of heart. Welcome to the family…now go live by dying!