In spent an hour in a Covid-19 testing line the other day.
Only an hour, give or take, because the community where I live is not especially large and we are fortunate to have a couple of such walk-up sites.
Only an hour, although it took that long to find the place for the one I first went to had moved and when I finally found it, the line was far outside. And it was cold. So, I went in search of another.
I spent an hour in a Covid-19 testing line the other day and this is what I observed.
All ages stood in that line — from an infant who was not standing, of course, but was carried by her parents, to an elderly couple who were able to sit in chairs and wait their turn. Young and old stood six feet apart — looking feverish and anxious to a person. All of us strangers to one another, but bound up together in and by one common reason for being in that place, regardless of where we call home, the shape of our families, what work calls to us, even our vaccination status.
And it struck me then that it was precisely into a group like this that Jesus would have stepped into and with alongside the Jordan River all those years ago. Oh, not feverish, probably not, but anxious maybe. And searching. And yes, of course, oh so very human and so awfully vulnerable as are we all, not only to a virus gone amuck, but also to everything that comes to us in lives lived fully: joy and heartache, despair and hope, illness and injury and healing, fear and confidence, doubt and faith. Indeed, even now Jesus could be found standing in a Covid-19 testing line with the rest of us — six feet apart standing on those blue X’s which marked our distance. Only Jesus would probably have stayed in line at the one across town, shivering in the late December wind.
And oh, yes, there is a lot to wonder about whenever we come round to Jesus’ baptism again: questions we will likely never adequately answer as to why his baptism was necessary at all. And yet, there is this, always this: Jesus was human. And he could always be found where the suffering and searching already were. And to be human in that crowd listening to John meant stepping into the river as well and feeling that water wash over him as it did all the rest.
Now I’ve been part of a lot of baptisms over the last few months… some of whose families have waited all through this pandemic until it felt safe enough to gather. We have come together almost as we did before — only with fewer gathered close so as to keep each other safe and masks still muffling our words, our responses. The words spoken have been the same though. The water still just a splash on the heads of ones so small. The cross traced on the forehead, the prayers exactly the same as they have always been, and the welcome from the congregation just as heartfelt. And yes, there has been a whisper of the ‘holy’ in each and every one.
I’m tempted to say, though, that it is different still from what we hear described today where with his hair still dripping and Jesus praying suddenly heaven breaks open and the Holy Spirit visibly descends and words about his Beloved-ness sound in an unforgettable way. For we are so ‘in control,’ aren’t we — at least in the tradition I call home — with our rote words, however beautiful, and our unquestionably clean water and our way of always doing things as we always have. We are so much ‘in charge,’ that though God may still speak, perhaps we don’t always hear.
And yet, perhaps it has been a bit more like this in these last many months than maybe ever before for we have had to work so hard to come to the font. If nothing else, we do not, cannot take this gift for granted as perhaps we once did.
No matter what though, there is this.
As Jesus was called ‘beloved’ then so were we, so are we, whether we can at first hear it or not. Simply because we are, whether we can actually sense the heavens breaking open or not. Here and now, those holding up a little one at the font, as well as those so new to this world themselves and all of these speaking through our masks, muffled though we may be.
And like those standing in a Covid testing line the other day, although unknown to one another, always known each one so preciously to God’s eyes, to God’s heart. Each worried, wondering face carefully making our way forward to the front of the line, regardless of where we had just come from and where we hoped to go next.
For Jesus came as one so fully human that he stood in line to be baptized with all the rest, in a way binding us to him and to one another in a way nothing else really can. And which, we are promised, nothing can break apart, so great is the love and sacrifice that made it so in the first place. Not even all that would divide us in the world now.
And because he came as one of us, we trust, don’t we that he is here in this moment. Not only in those lines in which so many stand waiting to be tested now, but also in emergency rooms and intensive care units which are overflowing with the suffering… and in those nearby waiting rooms where families are forced to stay … and on the other ends of cell phones where loved ones wait for word … and in all those places were so many isolate now, waiting for symptoms and days to pass…
Oh, I’m not entirely sure how much a Covid-19 testing line and the line waiting of those waiting for their turn in the Jordan River actually had or have in common.
- Except for the aching hunger that ran through them.
- Except for the hope each one still clings to.
- And except for the fact that because Jesus stood in that first line on that riverbank, we can be sure he still shows up wherever we find ourselves hungry and hurting and hoping even now.
Whether that is around the actual font or standing on bare cement inching forward from one blue X to the next or any number of other places we might name today.
And maybe, maybe if we just pause long enough as Jesus did in prayer, maybe we can also sense the heavens cracking open just a bit and hear the certain truth that each one is so very loved by God that God sent, and God sends God’s Beloved to walk alongside us even now. And that God calls us ‘Beloved,’ too.
I stood in a Covid testing line the other day because I had been exposed and I had symptoms, however mild. And for just a moment there, it seemed those heavens opened up for me to hear and see something of God’s great love for all those who joined me there.
Because Jesus came.
And stood in another line so long ago.
- Even now it strikes me as an odd analogy: the line at the Covid testing site and those gathered at the river for John’s baptism. Except for the aching humanity of it. What do you make of it?
- I am attempting here to get at the better than two-thousand- year-old question of ‘why’ Jesus was baptized. Where does that question lead you?
- When did you last sense heaven itself breaking open? When did you last hear God’s voice speaking out loud your beloved-ness? Could it have been, could it be in such an unexpected place as a Covid testing line? Or even in and through those long-memorized words we repeat around the font whenever once again we stake our very lives on God’s promises?