Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected. “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” (Matthew 3:13-14 The Message)
First the smell,
riding above dust and baked bush in the dry air,
running in and out of the teasing river scent…
spent breath and man sweat,
a crowd beyond the crest.
Y’shua bent to tighten a sandal,
making a spot of his own shade on the hill top,
and looked down under his lifted hand.
There, where the river lapped the foot of the broken hills,
where the rock ran out and pushed the current round,
the eddy embraced a man to the waist.
He stood in the eye of the valley,
the focus (for now),
sun bright robes rose up around him,
circling slowly on the red rocks,
the flowing crescents and curves
of the shifting mutter of crowd.
The hot air shimmered, simmered over all,
boiling gently where the water vapor
lifted the desert lid all down the river course.
Y’shua’s heart answered,
lifting with an artesian air of its own,
a springing-water reply to the river,
to the man, eddy caught,
where time itself circled and waited.
(Thunderheads built in the west.)
Y’shua stood slowly and stepped downhill
toward the lightning and the storm…
the rain / reign kingdom come
flash of future that spoke already,
in the crowd, in eddy-eye of time
in the valley below, and in John…
For most of the morning he watched and listened,
crowd lost, beneath an overhanging rock,
the hood of his robe up against the glare,
the eyes and ears of his spirit sifted the scene,
sought the sense and substance of John,
the words and works…
as the river took them, one by one,
and they came back dripping, laughing,
lapped in light, soul-washed, solemn,
bemused, awestruck, angry, resolute,
these sons and daughters, seekers all,
hearing the call to come, to come clean,
clean! to the coming kingdom,
grasping, gasping in the water bought holiness…
that cost them nothing…
nothing after all.
How quickly they dried in the desert air.
You could almost hear the pop
as the ground sucked in each drop
that fell from robe and beard and hair,
as though the thirst of the whole world
was gathered there, in the valley,
for the sparse rain of the prophet’s words.
And John knew…
How many times that morning did his eyes lift
scanning the crowd, his own thirst
larger than the river he stood in,
as they came one by one,
to the water that wasn’t enough,
was never enough, could not be enough,
searching for the one face on which the eddy broke,
listening, with the inner ear alone,
to the thunder of the coming storm
where hidden fire split his mind’s sky.
Even the river breeze was beaten flat
by the towering sun and the flow of penitents
faltered as the people sought shade and lunch.
John himself climbed the bank and sheltered while his disciples ate.
Suddenly the cry came…
“Behold, the lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world.”
The disciples started and stared, bread half-chewed.
John stood, a crossroads post,
his eyes pointing along his leveled arm
to the slope across the river,
his breath ragged, all a-tremble in a mighty
wind that none but he could feel.
They strained after John’s eyes
and turned back, one to another,
defeated by the crowd across the way…
they could, none of them, it seemed,
see that far.
John himself faltered,
wiped his hand across his eyes,
half stumbled, (thunder rumbled beyond the crest)
“The heat” he said, “the fire and the rain…
I thought it flashed so, there…”
And then, from the river fringe of the crowd,
Y’shua stepped into the water,
waded out to midstream, and stood.
John swung back, head low,
slapped hand to leg, “No,” he cried,
“not you to me but I to you…
He fell to his knees, and then, as one drawn,
crawled across the rock and rubble to the water’s edge,
and in, crawled still, until the water
lapped his chin in Y’shua’s shadow.
Y’shua reached and drew him up.
“It must be done!”
John shook his head, backed a step,
swayed in the current, “No…”
(Thunder from beyond the hill.)
sought the lightning in the gathered clouds,
and then, at last, took Y’shua’s hand and held
while he bowed beneath the water,
long, breath bursting long,
so long the disciples shifted foot to foot
on the shore and pulled at each other’s robes.
Y’shua rose dripping and lightning ripped the fabric of the world,
striking down to where he stood in the water,
throwing the crowd flat against their shadows all along the shore.
In the terrible silence of the evacuated air a whisper hung…
…and then the thunder, ear splitting,
mind numbing, and suddenly
the air was filled with doves.
Y’shua threw his head back, mouth open,
as the rain struck, lashing the river,
beating it to foam, drenching the crowd
where they cowered, most of them,
on the shore.
Who was it who first threw off his robe
and danced with the rain as it fell,
slipping, beating the red clay
of the shore until it ran like blood?
Who was it who dove laughing from rain to river?
Who first flung water up to answer the fall
until the eddy ran red with the washed,
bore, and was borne under,
the splashing, laughing bodies,
baptized and baptizers,
celebrating there at the very edge of the storm?
Time and the rain passed.
They stumbled, still smiling, from the river,
seeking discarded robes
among their more timid fellows,
but when they turned at last to look for Y’shua
where the lightning struck…he was already gone
running ahead with the winds of the storm.