“The Secret We Know”
January 12, 2003
One of the decisions every good mystery writer has to make is when to tell people the story's secret. Every good mystery story has a secret, and the writer has to decide whether to let us, the readers, know the secret early in the story or to surprise us with it in the end. Most mystery writers often hold back the secret until the last chapter, keeping us eagerly turning the pages to discover the secret with the rest of the characters in the story.
But other storytellers reveal the secret at the beginning of the story, so that we know the secret before the characters in the story do, leaving us to watch in suspense as the characters gradually discover the hidden secret we already know. When we hear the words, "Oh Grandma, what big eyes you have," we already know what Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t know. We already know the secret of the wolf in Grandma’s clothes.
I read about a legendary story about the famous scientist Albert Einstein, who was walking in front of a local hotel one day, when a wealthy old woman, who had just arrived in a luxury sedan, mistook him for a bellboy. The woman promptly ordered Einstein to carry her luggage into the hotel, and according to the story, Einstein, without saying a word, picked up her luggage, carried her luggage into the hotel, received a small tip, and then continued on to his office to ponder the mysteries of the universe. Now, whether this story is true or not, we may never know, but it is a wonderful and delightful story, because of what we know from the beginning, because we know the secret that the woman does not know, that the strange-looking, white-haired, ruffled little man is in fact the most celebrated genius of our time.
The Gospel of Mark is one of those stories where we, the readers, are told the secret in the beginning, the secret about Jesus’ identity, that the Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. It is this secret that will remain hidden throughout the whole gospel until the very end, and even then only a very few people, and some demons, will ever truly know the hidden truth.
But for us, we know the secret, the secret which is confirmed for us in the opening scene of Mark’s story, when Jesus, coming up out of the waters of baptism, sees the Holy Spirit like a dove descending upon him from the heavens, which have been torn apart like a piece of cloth, and he hears none other than the very voice of God say, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” Only Jesus sees the Spirit, only Jesus hears the voice, but for us the secret of the true identity of Jesus is revealed. God knows secret, Jesus knows the secret, and now we know the secret, that Jesus is the Son of God! And so we are left to watch in suspense and in many times amazement as the secret continues to elude almost everyone in the story.
But why us, why tell us the secret in the beginning? Because Mark never wants us to forget the secret about Jesus’ identity as the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection unfolds before our eyes.
When we look upon Jesus being ridiculed by the Pharisees and Sadducees, Mark wants us to remember the secret. When we see Jesus betrayed by a kiss and arrested in the garden, Marks wants us to remember the secret. When we see Jesus standing before the crowd as the crowd shouts out, “Crucify him, crucify him!,” Mark wants us to remember the secret. When we see Jesus mocked, ridiculed, and spat upon by the Roman soldiers, when we see Jesus bleeding from the crown of thorns on his head, when we see Jesus carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, Mark wants us to remember the secret. When we see Jesus nailed to the cross and taunted to come down, Mark wants us to remember the secret. When hear Jesus cry out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me,” when we hear him breath his last breath, when we hear the centurion at the foot of the cross confess, “Truly this man was the Son of God,” Mark wants us to remember the secret we have known in the beginning at Jesus baptism.
Only when we know the secret, do we begin to understand. The one who was rejected by his own people is in reality the one in whom God is well pleased. The one who was deserted even by his own disciples is in reality the beloved Son. The one who appeared powerless in death is in reality the one in whose power all shall live.
This is the secret that is revealed to us in Jesus baptism, and it is the secret in which all Christians share through baptism. For in the same way that the baptism of Jesus establishes his identity, the baptism of believers establishes our identity. Jesus is who God says he is, and in the same way we are who God says we are. We are God’s own beloved children, in whom God is well pleased.
For many though, the secret about who they are remains hidden, and as their own life’s story unfolds, they are left to wonder about who they really are and if they have done enough. But we know the secret about ourselves, don’t we? We know the secret that in the beginning God created us. We know the secret that before the foundations of the world, while the earth was still formless and void, God chose us, and called all of us by name. In the beginning, we have been told the secret, the secret of the truth about us, the secret about who we are and to whom we belong.
In my studies, I came across a story from the autobiography of Robert McAfee Brown, who tells of a time in 1960, when he participated in a Lutheran worship service in East Berlin, only a short time before the Berlin Wall was constructed. There were not many people present for the worship service, because church attendance was viewed with suspicion by the state. The East German Republic had developed secular alternatives to replace all of the rituals of the church. Nonetheless, a young couple came to the worship service and presented their child for baptism. Brown was amazed, and wondered why this couple would jeopardize their future and that of their child by insisting on this ancient ritual of baptism when a secular alternative was available?
Brown writes, “The couple does not have to answer my question. Their very act of bringing their baby to the church is a public statement of their priorities. They engage in significant risk because of their faith. In the face of their quiet, public courage I feel unworthy.”
This couple knew the secret about their child, about who their child was, and about to whom their child belonged. And nothing was going to take that away from them. As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today and reaffirm our baptismal covenant, remember the secret we already know, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that you belong to him, and nothing will ever be able to take that away from you. Amen.