On the first Sunday in Epiphany, Bishop William suggested the sacrament of Baptism is not simply about Jesus. Baptism is a choice to make ourselves available to transformation. The tradition and ritual of baptism has been handed down by the church, and for the participant it marks the beginning of turning our lives to something greater than ourselves. Through it, we are sealed by God and claimed by the spirit and named as his beloved – to receive the courage and confidence to bring light into the world and become servants to others.
Christ is being baptized by John in the River Jordon as angels look on. Orthodox icons of the baptism illustrate that mysticism and the Holy Spirit should take precedence over everyday reality. The river seems to float around Him like a cloud, Christ is surrounded by sanctified water. In the image, Christ does not appear completely covered by the water, indicating the process we are called to, through living we come to the full awareness of God. Note that the hands of the angels are covered. In ancient times, hands were covered to symbolize the involvement in sacred events, humility naturally reveals itself while coming into contact and touching that part of creation which is supremely divine.
Icons of Baptism
The icon is considered to be a “feast day” icon. All four Gospel accounts include the baptism. John is the haloed figure on the left. His hand touches Jesus’ forehead as he baptizes him. His hand is extended and actually enters the halo as they both share in the energy of God.. When the text reads that the Spirit of God descended “like a dove”, it is actually not saying the Spirit was in the form of a dove, rather the Spirit moved as a dove would have moved. Byzantine art does not always show God the Father or the Holy Spirit descending, the descending dove above Jesus’ head is seen more often in late iconography and Renaissance art.
Jesus is surrounded by the water representing the Jordan River, but this water does not look like any river we might see. The lines in the water suggest it is “Living Water”. As opposed to stagnant or still water, like in a cistern or puddle, “Living Water” supports life. Some icons will have fish cavorting in the water, again to emphasize it is living water. This is the same living water, the water any priest would use, as we are born into through baptism. Remember rituals and sacraments are special events, and are meant to bring us into a mystical mindset. Sacraments are often one time events which mark our commitment to extraordinary mystery unveiled to us through time and reflection.
Christ hold out his hand in the traditional position of blessing (two fingers extended representing all flesh and all spirit, while the other three fingers close together as a sign of the Trinity). Jesus is blessing the water, thereby giving this life giving water a sacramental dimension. Water is the most powerful element in creation, it cleanses as well as having a powerful ability to slowly grind down stone. In this case, to be baptized with water is to be touched by holiness, to be cleansed and given the power to become fully awake.
The event is celebrated by the reading on the first Sunday of Epiphany. So, Why Baptism, In This Day? Epiphany is the aaah ha! Experience. Many contemporary theologians suggest the ritual has little value if we do not actively live into our baptism. The beginning of awareness is a perfect epiphany. We realize one day we are loved and claimed by God, we live in his image of divinity because we have been sealed and claimed through this ritual and sacramental act. We come to the aaahha because at some point, often well after the water on the head part, we realize amazingly we are not alone. We are intimately connected to God, and become manifestation of God to and through one another. The sacrament is the invitation, it marks commitment, and gives us the power to become walking image of God in the likeness of Christ in all His abundant love.
So, begin again, Why not Baptism, in this day?
Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:34-35.