#41.8, Thurs., Feb. 16, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Ana is concerned about the smaller baby fearing he isn’t well. Colleen and the sisters don’t find this unusual. Being born is always dangerous, and these two infants have just come through that most terrifying journey into life. 

         But Ana is especially concerned and so we all are. She takes great care to keep him warm and when he seems warm she fears a fever. He does seem fussy and not as enthusiastic about the breast as his brother, but maybe the babies are just different from one another.

         Colleen says we need to have them baptized immediately. And Ana wants to give the babies baths with or without the blessings so she asks Colleen to prepare the large earthen bowl with tepid water. I’m sure that isn’t what Colleen meant by baptism.

         Once in a time before Jesus was even famous, my sister followed one of the charismatic leaders of new theologies arising within Judaism. Mary followed John. And Jesus also followed him. John was preaching near our home in Bethany making the bathing in the Jordan into a holy cleansing – offering repentance – a turning around – a change.

         As I am reminded seeing the Roman ruins in Luxovium and Metz, bathing was a popular social gathering back then. So all of us, in our little clusters of Christians following the changing ways of Judaism, were seeing all things of daily life as ritual “on earth as it is in heaven.” By the blessings of John, bathing became a sacrament. And by the blessings of Jesus feasting became a sacrament. [Footnote]

         I’ve seen it myself. First the baths and the feasts were social gatherings, then they were symbol, then sacrament, then sacrament became a single order by holy proclamation and sacrament and creed became an organized religion. Now, by symbol of bathing both body and spirit become new. This Christian ritual seems a fine thing to me, after-all, I was presented at the temple for the briss when I was only eight days old. I don’t remember that at all but surely it was a way bigger physical commitment than simply cooling the fevers of birth with a sprinkling.

         So if Ana wants to bathe the little fellow, wash him, restore the comfort of well-being to the tiny little body, it seems a good plan. Call it what you will.


[Footnote] If history were only about old stuff it wouldn’t be as interesting. The cultural importance of bathing in Jesus time is considered in a full chapter in The Westar Christianity Seminar takes a new look at an old time in A Historical exploration of the first two centuries of Jesus movement after Jesus and before Christianity, Erin Vearncombe, Brandon Scott, and Hal Taussig: Harper One, 2021, Part II, Chapter 12.

Photo credit: Rev. Christopher Marlin-Warfield, “From the bridge at Knoff Family Reservation”

(Continues Tuesday, February 21)

Published by J.K. Marlin

Retired church playwright learning new art forms-- fiction writing, in historical context and now blogging these stories. The Lazarus Pages have a recurring character -- best friend of Jesus -- repeatedly waking to life in various periods of church history and spirituality.

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