Baptism of the Lord (2020)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Baptism did not originate with Jesus. Indeed, we see John baptizing before Jesus; he in fact baptises Jesus. No, baptism began long before Jesus, but not as we know it. John the Baptist learned how to baptise from a group of holy men known as the Essenes. Some of you may have been to the Holy Land, and to the famous Qumram, where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Qumram there is a pool of water, which the men went into once a year to cleanse themselves physically and spiritually. Well it was from this that we get the concept of baptism. They would walk down some steps, into the water, before walking out the other side. It was an annual cleansing event.
The gospel tells us that Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan. It tells us ‘as soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water’. Notice that: he was immersed in water. John the Baptist knew who he was and tried to dissuade him; “It is I who need baptism from you”. Jesus saw this event as the beginning of his public ministry; baptism for him wasn’t just symbolic, it was making a statement: that from now on he became a public figure. Till now his life was hidden. God the Father uses this occasion to commission Him: “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.”
Our baptisms are a beginning too. Most of us were baptized as babies; I certainly was. You were baptized as soon as possible after your birth. Baptism washed away our sins, above all what we call ‘original sin’. We begin our post-baptismal life as pure as pure can be. Of course, with the way we baptize today it is hard to see the symbolism of washing and cleansing. The font is small. You couldn’t get in it. You certainly couldn’t be immersed in it. And yet, the Greek catholics still manage to put the entire baby into the water. All we roman catholics do is pour a few drops of water over the babies head. This isn’t good enough. It is a poor symbol of what is happening. Our sins are being washed away by the waters of baptism. The more water, therefore, the better.
Like Jesus, baptism is for us too a beginning. It is the beginning of our life in God. It is therefore, after our birth, the most important event in our lives. We are cleansed of our sins. We are no longer the same. At the same time we are commissioned by God to imitate His Son; to go out and tell people about the Father: about his love, his mercy and justice. But the awareness of what has happened takes time. Usually a very long time; often a lifetime. A great change has taken place on the day of our baptism, but because we were babies we don’t see it. Nothing extraordinary happens; there is no voice from heaven, yet we are not the same; we are holy; we are sacred to the Lord.
The good Christian will become ever more aware of the importance of his or her baptism. And once they do it makes such a difference. Our ordinary lives now take on an extraordinary dimension. Everything we do has a significance it never had before. We are now holy, sacred. Yes, we are sinners, we are far from perfect, but God looks on us and smiles. On the day of our baptism He has given us a role to fulfil which only we can. And our lives are that much fuller when we discover what that is. Which is essentially to tell others about the love and mercy of God.