Matthew 3:16-17

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

I think it’s telling that in Matthew’s account the voice from heaven speaks in the third-person; that is, to the crowd. In both Mark and Luke, the words are more personal and offered in the second-person: “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

Because I think these subtle differences are often clues to the distinct message of the evangelist at hand, it makes me curious: why address these words to the crowd, rather than only to Jesus? I mean, Jesus presumably overheard them, but they are clearly addressed to everyone, not just him.

Perhaps it’s because Baptism does not hold only personal significance. Perhaps Matthew wants to remind his community that while the words of Baptism are always deeply personal, they are never private. They hold significance for the whole community. In this case, these words are an announcement of Jesus’ status and mission and draw all those who hear them into the event as witnesses of what God is doing and will do in and through Jesus.

I wonder if we could think about the baptisms we witness in a similar way: that while the event and day hold particular significance for the child (or adult) and attending parents and sponsors, Baptism is actually a public and communal event. As such, all those who witness the Baptism participate in the naming and calling of this particular person to be a child of God and disciple of Jesus. Certainly this is something to celebrate, but also to remember, and even to remind each other.

Martin Luther was famous for regularly arming himself with a reminder of his baptism. Beset by fears or anxieties, he would hurl the words, “I am Baptized” into the air against the forces that assaulted him. While that has always been a powerful image to me, suddenly it occurs to me how much more powerful it would be to have whole congregations and communities of Christians reminding each other of our baptism. The words – now “You are baptized!” – might be shared as a communal affirmation and public witness that God is at work in and through us. We might share them on occasion at worship, of course, but also when we witness a friend, family member, or colleague struggling. “I know this is hard,” we might say, “but you are baptized and I believe God is still working with you and through you.”

Prayer: Dear God, use us to remind each other of your love and support, that together we may find the strength to be witnesses of your grace and goodness to all the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.