A number of years ago I took a busload of high school students from rural South Dakota down to the big city of New Orleans for a youth convention. Now, I didn't drive the bus or anything. Four other adults also went from three other churches. From my own parish there were twelve: a nice round number, don't you think?
We had a great time, great worship, good learning, 35,000 Lutheran students from all over the country. Our theme was Holy Week; we began with a Palm Sunday Parade, I remember, with giant marionnettes. It seemed appropriate for New Orleans.
On the way home, we stopped at a huge amusement park: actually, two amusement parks. One of them was called Oceans of Fun. We spent the day on the water: pools with fake tides that went in and out, roller coasters that sped on water, fake rivers with inner tubes to float on -- and water slides. Lots and lots of water slide. They were even conveniently rated for difficulty, 1 through 5.
I love the water. I am so old, though, I don't think water slides were invented when I was a little girl. And I am courage-impaired, generally. But I decided to try some of the more challenging waterslides. It was hot and humid, and we were at the end of a long trip.
There was one, I remember, a challenge 4 I believe. I remember standing in line for a long time and noticing a spotter down in the water below. I wonder what they need a spotter for, I thought. When it was finally my turn, I got careful directions: keep your arms folded across your chest, wait for the light, lie down on the slide. Then the person at the top of the slide gave the ok, and I was off.
For a few seconds it was simply exhilarating. Then the slide took some twists and turns. At one point I even seemed to be sliding upside down, and I became totally disoriented. By the time I reached the water I was sliding so fast and twisting and turning so often that it almost took my breath away.
It was then I discovered what the spotters were for. When I tried to come up for breath, I didn't know which way was up, and needed the spotter to turn me right side up so that I could find the water's surface and air. It was a totally disorienting and reorienting experience. It took my breath away.
*****I love baptisms. But, to be truthful, what we see on Sunday morning when we witness a baptism is somewhat -- well -- misleading, I think. We see people all dressed up in their Sunday best, looking respectable. We see something rehearsed, with the people's responses well under control. We see a little water demurely poured over a very cute baby's head. If we're lucky, we might hear some cries or howls, which is just as it should be.
In reality, baptism isn't demure, or respectable, or quiet, or controlled. In reality, it's a lot more like the Israelites, running through the Red Sea, with the Egyptians in hot pursuit. It's a lot more like Jonah getting swallowed by a great fish, and spit up three days later with a new outlook on life. It's a lot more like the waterslide: an experience of total disorientation, of finally learning which way is up.
In the darkness of Easter Vigil, we re-enter the chaos and darkness of Jesus' death, and emerge finally right side up, gasping for breath, and grateful. This is the night, the night Jesus went down, went down to the grave, went down to the deep, pulled by gravity, pulled by our sins. This is the night Jesus went down to put us right, to put the world right.