Sunday, January 3, 2016

God Turn All Things to the Best

The readings from Hebrew scripture and the gospel for Baptism of Christ C (Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-22) should remind us of the power of water. The waters of a baptismal service are usually manageable. A font, a bowl or a pool is filled. The waters are calm and controllable. We dip out the water to be poured or duck under the water in an organized fashion.

But there are times when we are reminded of the power of water. Currently the waters of the Mississippi River are flooding riverbanks and breeching levees from Illinois to Louisiana, and the soutthern locations are still seeing rising water. And unless you are in or near one of those places it's easy to remain unaware of what that looks like. 

One night in 1525, German artist Albrecht Durer dreamed about water. When he woke from the dream he attempted to put down in writing and capture in paint the image that had so frightened him in his dream. The image was this:
Albrecht Durer. Dream Vision. 1525. Watercolor on paper. Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

In the painting, gigantic falls of water fill the sky. The landscape is dotted with trees and rises in the land. A towered city is in the distance. One plume of water has reached the earth, crashing into the horizon with deep blue color and creating an earth-bound cloud of water. Imagine the force of that water as it hits the earth. This is not a gentle rain that refreshes the earth.

Beneath the picture Durer wrote: “In the year 1525 between Wednesday and Thursday (7-8 June) after Whitsunday during the night I saw this appearance in my sleep, how many great waters fell from heaven. The first struck the earth about four miles away from me with a terrific force, with tremendous clamour and clash, drowning the whole land. I was so sore afraid that I awoke from it before the other waters fell. And the waters which had fallen were very abundant. Some of them fell further away, some nearer, and they came down from such a great height that they all seemed to fall with equal slowness. But when the first water, which hit the earth, was almost approaching, it fell with such swiftness, wind and roaring, that I was so frightened when I awoke that my whole body trembled and for a long while I could not come to myself. So when I arose in the morning I painted above here as I had seen it. God turn all things to the best.”

In Durer's vision the water was significant - even terrifying - enough that it caused him to think of God. Perhaps it also caused him to remember the promise of Isaiah's prophecy that rivers would not overwhelm and that in deep waters God would be there. Those are promises worth remembering on the occasion of Jesus' baptism and on every baptism celebrated in a family of faith. The waters of baptism can be deeper and more consuming that the basin or drops or carefully clear pool would suggest. And for each person who goes through those waters, we pray that God will turn all things to the best.

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