SERMON CR Church 8 January, 2012
The Baptism of our Lord
Gen 1.1-5 Acts 19.1-7 Mark 1.4-11
Modern pilgrims to
the Holy Land often follow the route Jesus took when he went from
From that place
the tourist coaches travel in a few hours on good roads down the
In his day it was
the usual pilgrimage route to
There were others,
though, who would have been less likely to go on pilgrimage:
soldiers from Herod Antipas’s militia and collectors of tolls and
customs like St Matthew from
What drew them to the Baptist?
I suppose it was his strident moral and political denunciation of wickedness in high places and those who screwed taxes out of the poor.
Yet John gave
people hope of better times to come as well. A
great leader was about to emerge, he said, one far greater than John himself.
The one who was about to appear would be endowed with God’s fire and
power. John was a mere slave in comparison. John
urged everyone to prepare for the coming of this powerful, new leader by
repenting, changing behaviour and direction of life.
Those who intended to do this should plunge under the waters of the
However, if this is what John’s baptism meant why should Jesus come to him for baptism? St Mark’s Gospel doesn’t say.
St Matthew sees that it is a perplexing question and says that John protested that he needed to be baptised by Jesus but the Lord told him to do it because he said ‘It is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.’
The evangelists agree that God the Father praised Jesus at the moment he received baptism. A voice came from heaven ‘You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ Clearly the Lord’s baptism by John was a highly significant action.
Jesus the Word of
God, the Son of God, took flesh and identified with humanity.
Here in his baptism we see him identifying with sinful humanity no longer
clinging to its evil ways but wanting forgiveness, turning to God, desiring to
return to God. At the inaugural event of
His baptism necessitated his stripping off of his garments. We are reminded of his stripping before his crucifixion.
On the wall of the new St James Chapel above the altar there’s a wooden figure of the naked Christ, truly human in his self-offering to God, with upstretched arms suggesting the victorious rising after the completion of his mission as God’s beloved son. The figure was bought by Fr Aelred and Fr Clifford in a shop in the port of East London in South Africa and was placed in the apse of St Peter’s College, Alice and later taken to our Priory in Johannesburg. I am glad it has found a place here.
We are reliably informed that the figure of the crucified is 15th or 16th century Flemish or Belgian and may have been used in Holy Week processions to represent the dead Christ. When removed from the cross the arms of the corpus are made to fold down alongside the body as though laid in the grave. The symbolism of Baptism can suggest death and burial as well as resurrection.
Because he did this the Father declared him to be his royal, beloved Son and the dove-like Spirit and Power of God rushed down on him and through him is poured out on all who believe in him.
Crispin Harrison CR