Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." -Matthew 3:13-17
On The Meditation Prompts
Epiphany begins and ends with theophany: the heavens opening and the voice of God over the waters of Jordan and upon the mount of Transfiguration, like a supernatural parenthsis around the very grounded Galilean ministry.
The focus of today's meditations has to do with our participation in Jesus' Baptism. On this day we may choose to be born again (meditation one) renewed, revitalized, healed, strengthened (meditation two) that our own hearts may become for the world, streams of living water (meditation three).
Let it be so, amen. -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) let us be born again
The holy day of lights, to which we have come and which we are celebrating today, has for its origin the baptism of my Christ, the true Light that lightens everyone coming into the world, and effects my purification…. It is a season of new birth: let us be born again! We duly celebrated at his birth – I, the one who presided at the feast, and you, and all that is in the world and above the world. With the star we ran, with the magi we worshiped, with the shepherds we were enlightened, with the angels we glorified him with Simeon we took him up in his arms, and with the chaste and aged Anna we made our responsive confession…. Now we come to another of Christ’s acts and another mystery…. The Spirit bears witness to his Godhead, for he descends upon one that is like him, as does the voice from heaven…. Let us venerate today the baptism of Christ.
- Gregory of Nazianzus c.329 - c.389/390 A Christmas Sourcebook, Liturgy Training Publications
Miscellany Symbolism: excerpt referencing the teachings of the early Church theologians –
(Water) possessed of itself a cleansing property and for this further reason was regarded as holy: hence its use in ritual ablution, where its properties washed away all offenses and all stain of guilt. The waters of baptism alone wash away sin, and baptism is only conferred once because it opens the way to a new state, that of the new person. … The cleansing properties possessed by water gave it the additional force of the power of redemption. Immersion was regenerative, it effected a rebirth in the sense of its being simultaneously alive and dead. Water wipes out what has gone before, since it restores the individual to a fresh condition. Immersion is like Christ’s entombment. He came to life again after descending into the bowels of the Earth. Water is the symbol of regeneration and the waters of baptism lead explicitly to being ‘born again’ (John 3:3-7). They are the means of initiation. The Shepherd of Hermes speaks of those ‘who go down into the waters dead and come up again alive.’
- The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, Chevalier & Gheerbrant p.1084
Do you remember your baptism? Many people do not. Maybe at your grandmother's insistence, soon after you were born, your parents and godparents got you to the font while you still fit into the family Christening Gown.
In the liturgical tradition to which I belong, baptisms tend to take place at the convenience of out-of-town family, but ideally we welcome new members into the body of Christ four special times a year : The Great Vigil of Easter, Pentecost, All Saints Day, and the Baptism of Jesus. These four feasts offer Christian communities a regular chance to re-examine, reflect upon, and renew the grace of the sacrament, and even if there's no baptism that day, a bowl of water and the Paschal Candle, dominates the space. We might even get wet.
The renewal of vows also serves as an invitation to remember your own soul's initiation into the mysteries of the faith. Four times a year? Why not? For the deeper the journey, the more profound the layers of meaning behind this Christian initiation by water and spirit. I'm grateful for this. I can ask myself, How am I doing?
The purpose of any initiation rite in any religion is to once and for all overcome the fear of death. Dionysius, Osiris, Mithras, were Mediterranean gods who died and rose again from the dead. The rites simulated death, so that the initiate would fear no more - indeed, the adept would live into a full, mature human experience.
The Baptism of Christ, Tintoretto, 1579-81
Meditation Two (insight) the well of life
He pitched backward into a pool of water to whose edge the furious combat had brought them. And there he lay, unmoving, while the monster roared its victory cry and Una, watching from afar, wept strickenly at the fall of her hero. But it was no ordinary pool into which the knight had fallen. Its waters had rested in that land from earliest times, and its virtues had resisted even the dragon's foul presence. It was called the Well of Life, and had the power to cure the sick, to cleanse the sinful, to rejuvenate the aged, even to revive the dead. So, after a night of mourning and prayer, Una was stunned with joy to see her champion arise from the pool just as the sun rose to brighten the land. The knight seemed as if he had been reborn and baptized anew- his armour and weapons shining, his strength restored and enhanced.
-Edmund Spenser 1552-1599 The Faerie Queene, Modern Prose Adaptation by Douglas Hill
Meditation Three (integration) in us a stream of living water
...but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. -John 4:14
...Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that the water he would give would become in the person who drank it a source welling up in eternal life. Jesus is calling us to receive him so that we may give life to those who are thirsty.
Those who believe in Jesus will become like him. Through their love, their words, their presence they will transmit the Spirit that they have received from Jesus.
They will quench the thirst of the poor, the lonely, the needy, those in pain and in anguish and will give them life, love and peace of heart.
-Jean Vanier Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the belliever's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" -John 7:37-38
The Last Word
The more alert we become to the blessing that flows into us through everything we touch, the more our own touch will bring blessing.
Christian Baptism also simulates death, going down into the water to drown, to die, to enter the underworld, or the Unconscious. Bursting up out of the water represents birth, from the semi-darkness and muted sounds of the water-filled womb, to the harsh (at first) brightness of new life, the struggle to breathe air, to live in a completely new medium.
Why did Jesus go to the river Jordan to be baptized? Did he need to be re-born? Did he need washing from his sins? We don't believe so. But he went anyway, so that you and I might simulate this ritual of death and re-birth. Just to conquer the fear of death? More than that, I think. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “...those who drink of the water that I will give them, will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
With the Samaritan woman I say, “Give me some of this water!”(Jn. 4:15) Let me come from the waters not only cleansed, renewed, reborn, but let me try to comprehend that this “living water becomes in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 'Within them'! Within me! Within us!
I don't remember my baptism on Epiphany Day just short of my first birthday. (My parents must have forgot, having inherited the gown for my own children, it barely fits a one year old!) As for me, I'm forgetful of this eternal gift in the messiness and busyness of daily life. The living stream lives most of the time as a dormant, dark pool at the bottom of the deep well of my soul.