Saturday, November 6, 2010

Getting our feet wet, following in the footsteps of Jesus

The movement from the nation of Jordan through the river Jordan stands out as another significant 'shift' in our journey.
The desert had kind of grown on me. It is such a stark landscape, broken by mountains and sand sculptures, a few scattered Bedouin camps and, every so often, green patches of oasis.
Traveling down from Amman into the Jordan river valley one is struck by the line of green on either side of this water source. At the same time, I couldn't help but wish that there was more of the precious liquid, on both sides of the river, to wash away the persistent dust and the haze which hangs over the valley from the dead sea, and sand, and the heat.
We got out of the bus at Bethany beyond the Jordan - it is across the river from Israel. Following a long pathway through scrub, we saw ancient church sites and current construction underway on new places of worship and pilgrimage. We passed the church of John the Baptist, where many were baptized over centuries of use. At this site, during the winter floods of old, worship needed to be moved to higher ground when the river floods. Now, the Jordan has changed course, and there is no water close to the site. We had further to walk.
It was a hot day. We arrived at the Jordan, hot and sweaty. Entering the site, we dipped our hands in the filtered river water of the font, to splash on some refreshment. Standing on the viewing platform allowed a front row seat to the baptism services going on across the narrow expanse of water, across the border on the Israeli side. Soldiers with machine guns watched over all, ensuring no one traveled from one country to the other, probably no more than 10 feet, at best.
The river water is green, and cool. Walking down the wooden steps, we got our feet wet, choosing to keep our hands and faces well away from the water. We gathered as a group for a short service, reading the story of Jesus' baptism, reputed to be at this very site, or at least, nearby. At the end, each persons head was marked with water from the font. "Remember your baptism, and be thankful."
Joshua lead the people of the exodus through this water, to a new life. John the baptizer brought people back to this place to allow them to travel back across the river, in a baptism of repentance, for forgetting who they were, and being open to living in God's new creation, set in our midst. Jesus, too, traveled from one reality to another, as he came to this place, as he re-enacted the immersion in this water, a symbol of what separates us in one reality from God's reality. With wet feet, we walked back to the bus, and prepared for our journey through Israeli customs, to enter the next chapter of our story.

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