Ordinarily the sermon meditation eMo is a double one, the second being dedicated to the work of Episcopal Relief and development, for preachers who want to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's work with the suffering. Today, though, in anticipation of the Baptism of Christ, the lessons seemed to me to demand some contrast between the water of baptism and the terrible power of water we have just seen in southern Asia. So there is only one meditation today, calling us all to step forward in giving if we have not done so already. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution.
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.
We know that baptism carries with it talk and symbols of death. Newcomers to the church, there for the baptism, are surprised and a little disconcerted -- why talk about death at such a happy time, they say, looking at the sweet baby in his great-great-grandmother's Christening dress, the nervous godparents, the tender smiles on even the sternest faces in the congregation.
But there it is: Grant, O Lord, that all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection...We thank you for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death... The baby certainly suspects something: he sputters and wails when the water hits him. In churches that baptize by immersion, he is plunged into the water and then borne aloft, wet, glistening, howling. His life in Christ has gotten off to an alarming start.
Who can baptize this week without thinking of water and its profound two-sided power: water, necessity of life; water, that has reared up into the sky and then plunged forward over the coastal plains of a dozen countries of southern Asia, killing mounting thousands and permanently changing the lives of those who remain alive. We pat the baby's forehead with a pristine freshly ironed white towel and our cleanup is complete. Across the world, the cleanup continues: mud, whole broken buildings, crumpled cars and still more of the dead remain to be dealt with. The search for the living is over now: those still being carried into the Buddhist temples are beyond earthly hope.
Episcopal Relief and Development began its work the moment the news of the tsunami broke, and it has not stopped since. Bishop Duleep da Chickera of Colombo spoke with ERD officials as soon as it was morning here, and the first ready-to-use emergency shelters were on their way immediately.
So far, it has been the case that local and regional leadership has been more immediately effective than goods and people coming from outside. It makes sense: Bishop da Chickera and his counterparts are already there, and they know their people. The skilled disaster analysts from ERD can advise and empower trusted partners like the Bishop of Colombo, who are already on the ground, and move the help we give much more quickly to those who need it than they could if they did not already have these relationships with churches all over the world.
The outpouring of money and concern is enormous, and will grow over the next few weeks. Then it will all but disappear, as media coverage of the terrible events in Asia moves on to something else. As the world watches Asia, the pandemic of AIDS in Africa grinds on, swallowing its victims by the thousands every day. Human suffering takes time to heal, and television doesn't have a lot of time to give. But ERD has have the time, and the love, and -- with our help -- the money, to be in all of these places at once, wherever we are needed for as long as we are needed. They are our hands and feet in faraway places, among people in grave need. Our hands and feet, and God's hands and feet as well. We are what Christ has to work with here on earth. Surely our greatest blessing is to be able to save lives in his name.
To donate to ERD's tsunami relief and many other programs, visit www.er-d.org or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219