Jan 18, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord


Ritual And Reality


When we talk about the baptism of the Lord, what immediately comes to mind is a church baptism – typically a baby, parents and godparents. 

The word baptism hears “to dip, immerse in water”. When St. John was baptizing people in the river, he was using the water as a symbol of cleansing. Those willing to leave behind their old lives, repenting of their offenses against God, could now formally recommit themselves to God and they could “see” their sins being washed away down stream.  No, of course, they did not literally “see” their sins floating away down the river or dissolving in the water.  But the ritual was very important.  

Rituals seek to communicate what sometimes words cannot. We remember the event of a ritual. It helps us place something that is personally important for our interior lives, within the timeframe and history of our public life. 

For any ritual to be authentic, what is being communicated visibly must be genuinely happening invisibly within our heart and souls.  That’s the difference between a ritual and a performance.  In a simple performance, we learn our lines, we understand our role and do what we are expected. And after the performance is over we go back to the same type of life we were living before the play.  

However, when we perform a ritual, we seek to express publicly through our actions, what is happening invisibly to our souls. Whether we can understand it or not, our senses tell us that the ritual communicates something that is authentic, meaningful, sacred.

Christ was sinless. He did not need to have his sins washed away. He didn't have any.  Why then was be baptized? Did he just go through all the motions? Was it just a performance? No.

Consider the crowds of people who came to the waters seeking to turn away from sin and wanting to express this by having their sins symbolically washed away.  Consider that this was taking place in the desert, and that the villages upstream were using this river for water, for washing, for laundry and also for waste disposal.  Now you are downstream. What color would that water be when it reached the desert? How clean would it be?  Now consider that this water was being used to symbolically wash away sins. Not only at this stage was the river unhygienic, but also because John was using it to baptize, the water was symbolically polluted with sins, the sins of the whole world.

Now consider what Christ does. The Son of God, the embodiment of all purity and innocence, freely steps into, immerses himself into the dark and murky waters of our sins – he is literally “up to his neck in it!”.   In order to save us from our sins, Christ dives into the deadly waters to free us, to takes upon himself all the sins of the world, so that he would make safe the waters for us and we can emerge alive.

Unlike our own baptism which, when you think about it, is accomplished almost in an instant – we could say it happened in a “splash”, Christ’s baptism is a tsunami - it’s powerful, it generates waves that spill out in every direction through time and history, into the past, the present and to the future and beyond – a shockwave that rattles even heaven itself!

A Christian is someone who has been immersed with Christ into his life, death and resurrection. This is ritually communicated through our baptism.  But the waters of baptism can become stagnant and foul.  For this reason, when we turn back to God, our heavenly Father sends his Holy Spirit to breath upon the dark and deep waters of our souls, stirring our heart to repentance.  Through the sacrament of Confession, Christ in his love and mercy, filters out our sins and infuses oxygen once again into the waters of our baptism.

Keep the waters of baptism fresh, clean and full of life.  Express this with the simple ritual of blessing yourself with holy water every time you enter the church.  Fill up a bottle with holy water from the baptismal font and mark it as such. Every time you feel vulnerable to sin use it.  Have it close by when you are in danger. Bless yourself with it before you close your eyes into the darkness of sleep.  

Water is the most natural of all the elements, used by God himself in a ritual to communicate the most supernatural gift he offers us, the cleansing of our sins and the abundance of life in abundance. With God’s grace, let us keep this precious and life-giving gift fresh in our lives, free from the pollution of sin and safe from the decay of death and darkness.

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