The feast of the Baptism of Our Lord marks the end of the Christmas season. It often feels like a transitional time, maybe a bit sad and boring for little ones, and a bit of a lull for those working in parish ministries. However, this is the moment that the incarnation becomes more concrete. With every miracle, every parable and every encounter he has with others, Jesus brings us closer to knowing him, to knowing God.
All of the gospels give us an account of this moment which initiates the ministry of Jesus. Hearing this gospel as I grew, the question always lingered; “If Jesus is God, why did he have to be baptized?” We know that Jesus did not need baptism, but it seems like the Son of God was a true teacher here, modelling a new way for humanity to be closer to its Creator. Jesus approaches John the Baptist in solidarity with us. He institutes the sacrament of baptism by the Holy Spirit and we see the mystery of the Trinity revealed in Luke’s gospel. We begin a journey of coming to know and love God’s Son through hearing the Good News.
In this moment of the life of Jesus, the Trinity is presented to us in all its glory and compassion. We hear the words of a Father, proud of his Son. We hear of a Spirit coming from the clouds and we see Jesus in a moment both human and divine.
I have always loved the film depictions of the Baptism of Our Lord. In the Franco Zeferelli film, “Jesus of Nazareth,” John the Baptist, played by Michael York, is stunned into silence as he recognizes who has come to him for baptism. A lone dove flies through the sky and the words of the Father resound over the background music. Of course, this is a cinematic interpretation and yet, what is most impactful is the figure of Christ walking into the hills after this encounter. It is as if Jesus is beginning his walk to the cross.
And then, there is the joyous scene in the film Godspell. A jubilant Victor Garber portraying Jesus, approaches John the Baptist in a fountain and proclaims; “I want to get washed up.” Godspell is a much different style, with a comic approach to scripture, but the intent is similar. We witness Jesus beginning his mission. In both scenes, John the Baptist is seeing the fulfilment of the prophecy. I have never been to the Holy Land to stand at the spot in the Jordan River where the baptism of Christ is purported to have taken place. However, the scene from Godspell came back to me as I stood in front of the fountain in Central Park in New York. These gospel moments mark our lives. The Jesus of the manger, the Jesus baptized by John and the Jesus of the cross have come to meet us in our humanity.
What are the implications of this feast for us? As baptized Christians, we are members of a universal family of faith. We are part of a history of people who have known God through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The same Trinity that was present at the moment of Jesus’ baptism with John the Baptist, was present when the holy water was poured on our heads.
On this Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, we can take a moment to give thanks for the grace that poured out at our own baptism. In the ancient water cycle that brings life and sustains creation, the waters that flowed into the Jordan River are replenishing our world today as is the limitless love of our Lord.
Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.