Buoyed Up in the Waters of Baptism

Buoyed Up in the Waters of Baptism

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord- Epiphany I

January 7, 2024

Buoyed Up in the Waters of Baptism

Homily for Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ


It comes as no surprise that the recently-deceased swim coach Bill Boomer would approach swimming differently because Boomer, though he would go on to become a famous swim coach, had himself never been on a swim team, nor even attended a swim meet, before the University of Rochester asked him to transition from being the assistant coach of the track and field team to being the head coach of the swim team.  The summer before beginning his new job,Boomer installed a 16-foot, above-ground pool in his back yard in which he spent hours learning the basics.  What he learned in his small, back yard pool was enough that in 1967, his sixth season as head coach, the swim team went undefeated, and for the next 33 years (until he went to coach at Stanford) Boomer and the University of Rochester dominated the division.  

In just a moment, I want to get back to what the non-swimmer swim coach Bill Boomer learned in his backyard pool that enabled him to become such a successful coach. But first, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, which we celebrate today, by way of the Easter Vigil…

In the early Church the Great Vigil of Easter – that liturgy after sundown on Saturday night that marks the beginning of the Easter season – [in the early Church the Great Vigil of Easter] was the Baptismal feast par excellence; the Vigil’s images of darkness and light, bondage and freedom, dying and rebirth, speak powerfully to the nature of Baptism.  Over the centuries, the Church identified three other Feasts that likewise speak to the nature of Baptism.  They are:  Pentecost, All Saints’, and today, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  Each of these feasts, though rooted in the dying and rebirth Easter, emphasizes Baptism from a slightly different perspective. Pentecost emphasizes the Holy Spirit and that (as we will hear shortly) in Baptism we have been “sealed with the Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  All Saints’ emphasizes our sharing in the communion of saints and that (as we also will hear shortly) in Baptism Jesus has “received us as his sons and daughters” and “made us citizens of his kingdom.”  And today, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, emphasizes the Incarnation, Jesus sharing in our life and we in his.  So just as Jesus came to be baptized in the Jordan, so can we be baptized with him and with him share in all the events of his life, including being raised with him in the Resurrection.  

Or to put it another way, today’s feast emphasizes that we the Baptized “swim” in the same “waters” as does Jesus.  For example, today we remember that just as Jesus was Baptized, so are we baptized.  Next week we will remember that, just as Jesus called the first disciples, so does Jesus call us to be his disciples.   And in the Gospel in the weeks to come we will remember that, just as Jesus heals and gives new life to the man with the unclean spirit (Mk 1:21-28) and to Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-39), so does Jesus heal and bring new life to us.  By our Baptism we share in all the events of Jesus’ life and he in ours.  Today’s feast of the Baptism of Our Lord reminds us that we the Baptized “swim” in the same “waters” as does Jesus.

Now back to Coach Boomer.  In a nutshell, what Coach Boomer learned while floating in his backyard pool in Rochester in the summer of 1962 was…  to let go. Whereas other swim coaches might urge swimmers to kick harder or to turnover their arms faster or to train for longer, Coach Boomer emphasized the opposite:  How well can you let go?  How well can you remain relaxed in the water?  Can you interact with the water in such a way that you allow it to buoy you and to hold you up?  Swimming may be in part about propulsion,about kicking and moving your arms and exerting yourself.  But swimming, says Coach Boomer, is primarily about minimizing resistance, about letting go and allowing the water to hold us up.  

Carolyn, one of Jack’s parents, and I first met at the YMCA swimming pool one morning maybe two years ago.  I am pleased that Jack is being baptized on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, the Feast that reminds us that we the baptized “swim” in the same “waters” as does Jesus.   I pray that Carolyn and Erin and we here at Trinity can teach Jack to “swim” in the same waters as does Jesus, not by urging him to try harder or to work more or to expend more effort – these are likely only to increase resistance and might even cause him to “sink.”  I hope rather that we can teach Jack to “swim”by teaching him to let go, to trust God, to let Jesus buoy and hold him up.  For our fullest lives are found not in trying harder or in expending more effort, which tend to lead to more resistance, but by letting go and allowing God to hold us up.  And if we ourselves can learn to let go and trust Jesus; if we ourselves can learn to be buoyed and held by God; if we ourselves can learn to minimize our resistance to Jesus, then we will be in a good place to help raise up Jack to likewise learn to let go, to know and feel supported by God, to move and “swim” in this world confident that Jesus is with him.

It is on the one hand unnatural to live as the baptized in this world – “We were born to walk,” said Coach Boomer, “we were not born to swim.”  ”But,” he was quick to add, “we can all learn.” When we do learn to “swim” – when we learn to live more fully as the Baptized in this world, into our lives as a followers of Jesus, allowing ourselves to be loved and sustained by him, letting go and letting God – [when we do learn to “swim”], we find that actually we are most at home not so much walking but in the “water.”  For we were created to swim in the same waters as Jesus, to be with Jesus in intimate relationship with the Father.  And it is this intimate relationship to which Baptism helps restore us.    

I pray that we who witness Carolyn and Erin and the godparents making the Baptismal vows on Jack’s behalf may find our own lives strengthened and our loyalties confirmed.  I pray that all we who are baptized may indeed continue in our life-long process of learning to “swim.”  Which we learn best not by trying harder or working more, but by letting go, allowing God to draw near, and by doing our best not to resist God’s unconditional, deep and everlasting love for us.  A love that ultimately is what our souls all yearn for.

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