Text: Mark 1:1-11
How many of you remember your own baptism? Some of you do. Many of you don’t. I don’t remember mine, though I do know that it was on March 17, 1979, St. Patrick’s Day. Chances are, if it hadn’t been on a holiday, I wouldn’t know that off the top of my head. Indeed, I bet most of us don’t know the date of our baptisms. As a tradition that practices paedo-baptism or infant baptism, this is to be expected. Yet, we all hold our baptisms to be one of the most important events in our lives. This year we began the Epiphanytide season with the baptism of our youngest daughter. This St. Patrick’s Day, Heather and I will witness and be godparents for our youngest nephew’s baptism. In today’s Gospel we recall our Lord’s own baptism.
For much of the Church’s history the Baptism of our Lord was celebrated alongside the Feast of the Epiphany in some way or another. You’ll find this in many older prayers for the uFeast of the Epiphany, such as the “For Epiphanytide” from the Manual for Priests, a beloved supplementary liturgical text among high church Anglicans:
Almighty God, who at the baptism of thy blessed Son Jesus Christ in the river Jordan didst manifest his glorious Godhead: Grant, we beseech thee, that the brightness of his presence may shine in our hearts, and his glory be set forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
In the older Western calendar, used by the older Books of Common Prayer, this meant that the Baptism of our Lord didn’t have its own special feast day. In modern calendars, the Baptism is celebrated on the Sunday during the Octave of the Epiphany, meaning that most parishes end up celebrating the Baptism and the Epiphany together anyway, as “Epiphany Sunday” has become the norm in our country. The American 1928 Book of Common Prayer did something a bit different: the post-Epiphany Gospel readings were shuffled a bit, and the Baptism was inserted on the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany. This means that for parishes that use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, we will always celebrate the Baptism of our Lord a week or two after the celebration of the Epiphany proper.
The Baptism of Jesus is an opportunity for those baptized into Jesus to look at our own baptisms in light of what is revealed in Christ’s baptism. Please turn in your bibles to Mark 1:4, page 112 in your Prayer Book:
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
This last verse speaks to the difference between John’s ministry of Baptism and Christian Baptism. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance as a way of preparing for the Lord’s coming. But it was an incomplete baptism, as John himself testified. St. Gregory Nazianzen writes of three baptisms in Scripture. He writes:
Moses baptized, but in water, in the cloud and in the sea; but this he did figuratively. John also baptized, not indeed in the rite of the Jews, not solely in water, but also for the remission of sins; yet not in an entirely spiritual manner, for he had not added: “in the spirit.” Jesus baptized, but in the Spirit; and this is perfection.
And when Jesus baptizes us in the Spirit, his own Spirit indwells us, and overflows in our lives. Remember the passage from John 7 that we read on the Epiphany, when Jesus was at the Feast of Tabernacles (which, if you recall, was commemorated in early Christian celebrations of the Epiphany):
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
The Spirit, as you recall, falls on the Church at Pentecost. Immediately after the Spirit falls on the Apostles, the Spirit’s work flows out of them in the form of preaching, the result of which was 3,000 conversions and baptisms among the pilgrims in Jerusalem. When we are baptized as Christians, it is in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus commanded. We are then born again of water and spirit, as Jesus said to Nicodemus. In our baptismal service, we conclude with two prayers that illustrate the work of the Spirit in our baptism (page 280 in your Prayer Book):
We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this Child (this thy Servant) with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own Child, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church. And humbly we beseech thee to grant, that he being dead unto sin, my live unto righteousness, and being buried with Christ in his death, may also be partaker of his resurrection; so that finally, with the residue of thy holy Church, he may be an inheritor of thine everlasting kingdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named; Grant you to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that, Christ dwelling in your hearts by faith, ye may be filled with all the fulness of God. Amen.
We are regenerate, that is, born again, by the Spirit. We are strengthened by the Spirit. We are indwelt with the Spirit. And, as we live our Christian lives, the Spirit flows from us like waters of living water, bearing witness to Christ and his Kingdom, because Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, as John foretold.
Let’s continue in our Gospel at verse 9:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
This is one of the clearest passages depicting the Trinity in the Gospels. First, by being called by God “my beloved Son,” Jesus’ divinity is declared. As every 1st Century Jew knew, being the Son of God implied equality with God. In fact, the people tried to kill Jesus on several occasions for that very claim, considering it blasphemy. And if he were not the Son of God, they would be right! But in the Resurrection, Jesus is vindicated and shown to be in the right, and his claims to Sonship are equally vindicated. But notice also that all three Persons of the Trinity are active in Jesus’ baptism. The Father is speaking from heaven, the Son is being baptized and spoken over, and the Spirit is descending like a dove. This tells us that the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Son. Though we have one God, our God is Trinity: three divine Persons, co-equal, and co-eternal, as we confess in the Creeds. In his baptism, Jesus is shown for who he really is: he is God. He is God’s Son.
In our baptisms all three Persons are similarly active. As we have just seen, we address the Father throughout the Baptismal service. We are baptized into Christ and his death. We are baptized with water and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Christian baptism, like everything in our faith, is deeply trinitarian. That means that it’s deeply relational, as the Persons of the Trinity use our baptism to bring us into fellowship with God and fellowship with his Church, outflowing from the eternal fellowship that the Persons of the Trinity have with each other. God loves us because God is love and has always loved within that Trinitarian fellowship. He didn’t have to create us to love; he always loved.
Note also, the approval God speaks over Jesus in his baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” When we are baptized into Christ, we, too, are declared to be beloved children of God, with whom he is well pleased. That said, there are important differences. Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God; we are adopted Sons of God. Jesus pleased God because of his own deeds; we please God because of Christ’s.
Finally, Jesus’ baptism was the official beginning of his ministry. So, too, is our baptism the beginning of our ministries. Our baptism begins our life in the Church, and life in the Church is one of ministry. Now, that, of course, will look different for each person, depending on our different vocations. The ministry of a child is far different than that of a parent. The ministry of a priest is different than that of a layman. The ministry of a retired person is different than that of someone who is in the office or at the worksite. But for all of us, ministry can be summed up in those first two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and all thy strength” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Our ministries always boil down to applying those two commandments in our daily lives.
Most importantly, remember that our baptisms identify us with Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel, John initially tries to turn Jesus away from baptism, saying: “‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” Jesus had no sin from which to repent. He had no sin that needed remission. But Jesus identifies with our sin, foreshadowing that ultimate identification when he takes our sins upon himself as he hangs on the Cross. This is why John said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” Jesus took our sins, even being baptized and later crucified for our sakes. And when we are baptized into Christ, we are crucified with Christ, and raised again to new life. Our old self dies, so that we might be made new creatures, having Christ’s righteousness, co-heirs with him in his Kingdom.
In our Collect we prayed:
Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Because we have been baptized into Christ, our prayers and supplications have the ear of our heavenly Father. Because our baptisms mark us as belonging to Jesus, pleasing the Father because he was pleasing to the Father, we can indeed have peace. Whether you can recall your own baptism or not, the fact that it happened is assurance of God’s promises, promises foretold by John, fulfilled by Jesus, even when he too was baptized in the Jordan, sanctifying those waters for you, for me, and for all whom he would call.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.