Tuesday, 1 May 2012
Brushing the landmines under the carpet
It happens so easily. We've all been there. You're just trying to get things done; to get on with life. But life's busy, life's demanding, and it can throw up the unexpected that needs to be dealt with. Unfortunately you don't always deal with it well. You didn't mean for it to all go wrong, but it did, and now there's one heck of a mess. So, what are you going to do about it, hmmm? Put you hand up, admit it was you, and try and make amends? Maybe others will offer to help, they'll understand and want to work with you to put things right,... or, maybe they won't... So, how about brushing the broken bits under the carpet and attempting to distract folk with a nice bunch of flowers instead? It's amazing how often that does the trick!
Have you ever been to the Holy Land? Did you visit the baptism site on the River Jordan. No you didn't. Well, not unless you went via the country of Jordan over forty -five years ago, or you happen to be Greek Orthodox and well connected. Now, if that's leaving you a little confused please let me explain. The Bible tells us that John baptised in the Jordan and that all Jerusalem came out to see (Matthew 3). It's reasonable to assume that means he was baptising on that stretch of the river that passes vaguely near to Jerusalem. That means somewhere close to Jericho. The tradition of many centuries certainly agrees with this. Yet, for the past few decades there has been a very attractive and well used baptism site on the Jordan river just south of where it exits the Sea of Galilee. I went there the last time I was in Israel, as did coach loads of devout tourists. They still do.
The problem with the historical site is that it lies in the West Bank. For nearly thirty years it was occupied by Jordan and now it is occupied by Israel. It's the border of a hotly contested territory and, as you may be able to see from the photo above, it is in the middle of a minefield. It was only late last year that Israel first allowed regular access to this spot. You have to drive through armed checkpoints and a rather large minefield to get there, but at least you can get there now. There's an attractive new baptismal centre that's just been built but they really need to do something about the shell holes in the nearby Syrian Orthodox monastery and the other Christian sites too heavily damaged to access at all.
Personally I draw comfort from this. I get things wrong. But, you didn't need me to tell you that, did you? Well guess what? I'm in good company, and I'm not just talking about the State of Israel, am I? (Come on now, we can all be honest with one another). There is an irony in the symbolism of the site so damaged and cut off for so long. Baptism is about two wonderful things; restoration and adoption. Restoration; the renewal of what has been broken - a relationship of love and trust. Adoption; our inclusion in a greater community that is compelled to stand with us in the ongoing work of reconciliation - 'cos we still don't get it all right.
The baptismal site near Jericho is not nearly as attractive a setting as the one at Galilee, it never will be, but it is a wonderful place to be. Set amidst a battlefield it is a contrasting symbol of the hope offered in God; a hope that endures; a hope that we can all draw encouragement from. That will be something for me to remember the next time I stand before a font ready to baptise.
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