In the Name...
Over the years, I think I have baptized children with every possible variation on the spelling of “Caitlyn” and lots of other names, as well. But, the story is told of one priest who, when he got to the “Name this child” part of the service, was confronted with what he thought he heard as “Ispindonum.” When he asked the mother to repeat it, she replied, “His name is George. It’s pinned on him.”
Well the Christmas, such as it was this past year, is behind us and today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord by John at the Jordan.
Now, John was at the Jordan performing the Jewish ceremony of baptism. This was a ceremony similar to our sacrament of reconciliation. People confessed their sins and as a sign of making a clean start in life, immersed themselves in the river as John prayed over them.
And among the people who went to the Jordan to be baptized was Jesus. Now why was this? Jesus didn't need to confess anything. He was the Holy One of God. But, Jesus was not being baptized for any sins he had committed. He was baptized for all the sins which had been and would be committed by all people of all times; for you and me.
In other words, what Jesus did at the Jordan was a preparation for what he would complete on Calvary – be the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. For, the work of the Saviour is to save and for Jesus to save us he had to take on the penalty of sin itself, mortal life and death, so that we could share his immortal life.
And it also means he had to bring to completion what his Father started a thousand years before with Moses when he brought his people out of slavery into freedom by having them go through water. In other words, there is a direct connection between the Hebrew Exodus and Christian Baptism.
The escape of the Hebrews was nothing short of miraculous. They were up against the Red Sea; Pharaoh's army was approaching. And then God made the sea part and the people walked between walls of water to emerge on the other side in a place where they were safe. It's a great story. We've all seen the movie. But, the Exodus wasn't an end in itself and it wasn't just about the Hebrews. We use the word "prefigure" to describe what God was doing that day and what he was doing was preparing the world for a future event.
The escape of the Hebrews from a land of slavery prefigures our escape from a world enslaved to sin. When Jesus goes under the water and rises out of the water, he is re-enacting the Exodus and he is also pre-enacting both his own rising after death and our own rising after death. The whole purpose of Jesus' coming, his passion, death, and resurrection, is prefigured right there at the Jordan.
For what happens when Jesus rises from the water? The heavens were torn open. Torn. And it's the same word used when it says that as Jesus died on the Cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two. The veil, the barriers between God and Man were abolished and we give thanks for that. Thanks to Jesus, we can go to heaven. But, when a barrier is lowered it opens the road to two-way traffic and today, especially in our Second Lesson, we are reminded that heaven has also come to us. The Holy Spirit descends, and that is the deepest lesson of Jesus' baptism - the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the baptized.
Now, there's a lot of discussion as to what "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" means, but, one thing generally agreed is that it is the presence of the Spirit in our lives which allows us to do the spiritual works which set us apart from everybody else on this planet. Without the Spirit, we wouldn't be who we claim to be - children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ.
You see, those who have been baptized are different from those who have not, but, not in any physical way. Baptism doesn't make your hair turn green, for example. That would be interesting. But, there's no way to tell a baptized from a non-baptized person by looking at a photograph. There is, nevertheless, a difference, a substantive difference, on another level.
The baptized has a different relationship with God than other humans do. The baptized can call God "Father" and expect to be heard as a son or daughter is heard by a parent. The baptized has access to the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit and can both receive and make graces and miracles. And, the baptized doesn't need a self-help philosophy because the baptized always has help. He can ask the other baptized to pray for him and his needs. And he's not restricted to just relying on the prayers of those he knows, or even those who live in some other town or country. He can also ask those who live in Heaven. The communion, the communication, of the baptized, transcends time and place and dimension because it is not based on who we are, but, on what God has made us.
There aren't many events mentioned in all four Gospels. Not even Jesus' birth makes that list. But, his baptism does. That alone should inspire us to reflect all the more upon our own baptisms.
For, we are people of flesh and blood - and of water and the Spirit. Beloved and loving. Brothers and sisters of Christ. May that name be always pinned on us.
In the Name...