Baptism: becoming God’s beloved one Part 1 (Contemplating the Easter Mysteries II)

Ever wondered what God sees when he looks at you?

Wait. God looks at me?

You mean God sees this big hole I have in my heart? He knows that I can’t sleep for the worry that is nagging at my thoughts? He cares about how tired I feel from the endless responsibilities that keep me scurrying through my day?

Yes. When God looks at you he sees his daughter, his son. He also sees how often you—as children so often do—try to take care of things yourself without relying on your Father.

I’ve read about God’s love. I’ve heard people talk about it. But I don’t feel it so how can I know it is true? How can I know I mean anything to God?

In the beginning of the public life of Jesus, when he was around thirty years old, there is recorded a mysterious event. Jesus had gone down to the River Jordan where his cousin John was baptizing in the water. All Judea was flocking to him to be baptized by him and to learn what they needed to do to return to God.

Jesus not only watched, he got in line to be baptized himself.

John is baptising when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptiser; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water. From a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop
(Oratio 39 in Sancta Lumina, 14-16, 20: PG 36, 350-351, 354, 358-359)

But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, 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, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus knows what it is like for his Father to look at him, to hear the love that is in his Father’s voice as he spoke to him, calling him Son, the Son in whom he was well pleased, his beloved Son.

When someone talks about a child or friend as their “beloved,” they mean to say, “I have a real special liking for this person. I prefer them. I love being around them. I give them gifts to show them my love. I take them into my confidence. They are closer to me than all others. I can’t live without them.”

The baptism of Jesus has everything to do with your baptism and mine. It has everything to do with our becoming God’s beloved one.

Saint Maximus of Turin tells us: “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched. For the consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water.”

Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptised; let us also go down with him, and rise with him. (From a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop, Oratio 39 in Sancta Lumina)

I have spent so many decades of my life wondering if God saw me, if God cared about me, if God was going to be there for me. Isn’t it true that so often we measure the gift of God by what our feelings are telling us? We don’t “feel” God’s presence, so he must not be here. We don’t “feel” lovable to ourselves and we project that on to the way we think God must feel about us. We “feel” alone and isolated and we act as though God has no power or interest to help us.

Notice that at the baptism of Jesus, we are not told about Jesus’ feelings. We witness an event. Jesus goes down into the water, is baptized by John, emerges from the water, and hears his Father’s voice calling him Son.

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honour to the body that is one with God. (From a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop, Oratio 39 in Sancta Lumina)

The Baptism of Jesus is the moment in which the Lord sanctified the waters. By immersing his holy body in them, Jesus made them fitting for conveying the grace of the sacrament of Christian baptism. Jesus makes it possible for us to be reborn to new life through the sacrament of baptism. Saint Maximus of Turn in the fifth century explains: “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched. … For when the Savior is washed all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages. Christ is the first to be baptized, then, so that Christians will follow after him with confidence” (Sermo 8: De sancta Ephiphania, 2).

It was in Christ’s own baptism by John the Baptist in the river Jordan that this sacrament of initiation was instituted to enable us to share in the Divine Life of the Trinity.

Most of us probably don’t remember our baptism if we were baptized as infants. Our “feelings” at the moment were probably surprise or discomfort as water was poured on our heads three times while the priest called us by name and said the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Directions for your prayer this Easter:

Underline in this article every reference to a gift God has given you through your baptism. Notice how your soul responds to this litany of love. When you hold your experiences of sorrow and loss and doubt together with God’s action to bring you to the “pure and dazzling light of the Trinity,” what new things do you notice?

Image credit: Baptism of Christ fresco by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1305 (Cappella ScrovegniPaduaItaly) via Wikipedia, Public Domain

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