Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Baptism of the Lord

Homily at STM, Toronto - January 12, 2013

“it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness”

This phrase from today’s Gospel challenges us to see how the Baptism of Jesus was necessary since he was sinless and John the Baptist was preaching repentance and baptism for the remission of sin.

Contemplating the Baptism of the Lord “to fulfill all righteousness”, Lancelot Andrewes (1555 –1626) the 16th century English bishop and scholar, said this, speaking of our Lord:

“And so He was baptized. And he had a threefold immersion: one in Gethsemane, one in Gabbatha and a third in Golgotha. In Gethsemane in his sweat of blood.  In Gabbatah, in the blood that came from the scourges and thorns; and in Golgotha, that which came from the nails and the spear.”
The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes at Southwark Cathedral. He helped translate the KJV bible.
Bishop Andrewes parallels the Baptism of Jesus, which was not required for his own sins because he was God Incarnate, parallels Jesus Baptism with our own Baptism into the Name (and so into the life) of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Baptism was into suffering and death.

The bishop goes on to explain why Jesus was baptized for our own sakes, not for his. Baptism was part of his kenosis which is the term that sacred Scripture uses to describe how Jesus poured himself out to the last measure by immersing Himself in our frail, broken, sinful human life in order that we might be filled with the water of divine mercy and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

At Golgotha, says Andrewes, quoting the Gospel of John chapter 19:

“met the two streams of ‘water and blood’, the true Jordan . . . wherein we are ‘purged from our sins’ (John 1:7) . . . . and in virtue of that, doth all water-baptism work. And therefore are we baptized into it: not into [Jesus’] water-baptism but into his cross-baptism; not into his baptism but into his death.”

By emptying Himself for us, so that we might enter his death, God  also raises us by grace through Jesus' own rising. We rise with Jesus into his kingdom, a kingdom which is entered by the gate of His Baptism, a baptism into his ministry, suffering , death, resurrection and ascension. 

Jesus has opened the way for us to be raised from the waters of chaos to the “fulfilling of all righteousness” not by our own unaided efforts but by his grace and mercy, poured out upon us.

There is a scene in the 2010 film, The Way Back, based on the true story of a band of escapees from a Soviet prison in Siberia who made it through the Siberian wilderness and then the Gobi Desert and finally across the Himalayas to freedom in Nepal. This was an astounding feat.

The scene that I mentioned depicts the men finding water after days in the desert and the last days with no water. They immerse themselves in the water. The long scene shows the grateful men pouring water on their heads as though they were pouring life into their bodies.

It is a powerful scene of survival but also one of transformation. Their palpable gratitude for this grace of life found in the water is overwhelming and speaks of the spiritual transformation that is assured to us in the promised grace of regeneration through Holy Baptism.

Bishop Andrewes again:

“There is so, in baptism, besides the hand seen that casts on water, the virtue of the Holy Ghost is there, working ‘without hands’ what here was wrought.”

He goes on:
“And for this Christ prays; that . . . it might [be] . . . and might ever, be joined to that [baptism] of the water . . . .  That what in His [baptism] here was, in all theirs might be; what in this first, in all following, what in Christ’s, in all Christians’.  Heaven might open, the Holy Ghost comes down, the Father be pleased to say over the same, so oft as any [Christian’s] child is brought to [Jesus’ own] baptism.

. . . . in Christ , regenerate and translated into [what St. Paul’s in his Letter to the Romans calls] the state of ‘grace wherein we stand.’

And not only a great change, but a great rise also.  At the first, we were but washed from our sins, [that] was all; but here, from baptized sinner to an accepted son is a great ascent.

And finally this:
“[Christ] came not down so low, but we go up as high for it.”
. . . . and this he brings us to before he leaves.”

“it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” . . . by the grace and mercy of God.

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