The First Sunday after Epiphany:
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
That the Epiphany is a celebration of all the mysteries of the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world as the Incarnate Son of God is made clear in the antiphons of the divine office. At Matins the antiphon on the Benedictus in the modern Roman use is
Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding;a nd the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine.
The antiphon on the Magnificat is:
Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.
The western church traditionally keeps the day of the Epiphany as the commemoration of the visit of the Magi, with the result that while the other mysteries have indeed been marked in the lectionaries of the Office and Mass, they have not captured the popular imagination as “epiphanies”. The most important of them, the Baptism of Christ, has now been restored to a prominent place in the Calendar on the Sunday after Epiphany, or within the Octave, if you prefer the older way of speaking.
In the Canadian Prayer Book of 1959, provision was made to commemorate the Lord’s baptism on any day in the Epiphany Octave or at a second service on the Epiphany (see page 119). There was no commemoration of the Lord’s Baptism in the earlier versions of the Prayer Book in England or the United States. The new Roman Missal keeps the Baptism on the Sunday after Epiphany; we have rightly followed this practice in our revised liturgies.
Almighty, eternal God, when the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism in te Jordan, you revealed him as your own beloved Son. Keep us. your children born of water and the Spirit, faithful to our calling. We ask this through our Lord ….
So it is Englished in the St Joseph Daily Missal: the original is somewhat more elegant:
Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, qui Christum, in Iordáne flúmine baptizátum, Spíritu Sancto super eum descendénte, diléctum Fílium tuum sollémniter declarásti, concéde fíliis adoptiónis tuae, ex aqua et Spíritu Sancto renátis, ut in beneplácito tuo iúgiter persevérent. Per Dóminum.
The First Reading: Isaiah 43.1-7
The promise of this oracle, that God will be with his people in all danger (of water and fire) because they are precious in his sight and glorious and he loves them, is surely fulfilled when the Incarnate Son undergoes the baptism to which his people are called. Here God is surely standing on our side.
That the water imagery of this oracle is another link to the celebration of Christ’s Baptism is obvious. The Easter Liturgy makes clear that the Crossing of the Red Sea is a type of Baptism but we shoud also notice that Isaiah speaks of rivers.
In its origins Psalm 29 seems to predate Israel’s coming to true monotheism: so it invokes “gods” to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord. It is widely held that this was at first a hymn to the Canaanite god of storms. The imagery is of the inexorable thunderstorm coming in might and fury off the Mediterranean onto the mountains; the ‘voice of the Lord” ( a phrase repeated seven times) is the rolling peals of thunder. That “The voice of the LORD is over the waters” is echoed in the voice which came from heaven when Jesus was baptized.
The Second Reading: Acts 8.13-17
When persecution has started against the young Church in Jerusalem, Philip, of Caesarea Maritima (21.8), who was one of the seven chosen to serve tables (6.1-6), has travelled to Samaria to preach the good news there (8.4-13): the first known evangelism outside Jewish areas. The Samaritans “listened eagerly” (v. 6) to what Philip told them, “hearing and seeing the signs that he did”. Even Simon, a well-known magician, told them that Philip spoke and acted through God’s power. Those who believed, including Simon, were baptised.
The story of Simon Magus is important in the original context of today’s lection, but it is not included because the excerpt was chosen to speak of Baptism and the gift of the Spirit and thereby relating to the Gospel for the day.
Now that the baptism of the Samaritans by Philip was not accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is an anomaly. Usually in Acts, the Holy Spirit is received at baptism (see 2:38 and 19:5-6) or before it (see 10:44); here the gift is not only removed in time but comes only with the laying in of the apostles’ hands. This is why this passage is appointed to be read in the Order for Confirmation in the Canadian Book of Common Prayer (p. 557). Luke’s intention is to show how the new community is bonded to the mother church by the visitation of her delegates (11.22). The apostles, as “witnesses of his resurrection” (1,22) certify the risen One’s continued activity on earth
The Gospel : Luke 3.
That the Baptism of Jesus is an Epiphany, a revelation of Jesus as the Christ of God, is clear and does not need much comment. It is enough to note that the details of the story open rich depths of meaning. Note, for example, the parallel between the scene in the wilderness where the Spirit of God descends over the waters of the Jordan as the Voice of the Father says, “You are my beloved Son”, and the scene over the formless and empty world at the creation, when the Spirit of God moves over the waters and the Voice of God commands that there be light. In this parallel we see that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is as the beginning of a new world into which we are invited. Again, that the baptism is in the Jordan recalls the entry into the Promised Land through the Jordan river, made dry land as the Red Sea had been [Joshua 3-4]. We should recall here that the name Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua. Even more, in the scene at the Jordan we see the three persons of God: as Jesus the Saviour comes up from the water, the Spirit descends on him from the Father in heaven, who declares him to be the chosen, the beloved Son. Thus, while this is indeed the Epiphany of Christ the Son of God, but it is also the Epiphany of God the Holy Trinity — we might even coin the word Triadophany.
Luke’s special addition is the note that when Jesus had come up from the waters of Jordan he was praying. there is a very helpful comment on this in NJBC:
Although many of the details of Jesus baptism do not provide a basis for the view that Luke is presenting “Jesus as a model for Christians undergoing baptism, the detail of Jesus’ praying is patient of this interpretation. In Luke Jesus’ ministry begins with prayer and ends with prayer (22.46). Jesus prays in connection with healings (5,16), before his prediction of the passion (9.18), before his transfiguration (9. 28-9), and before he teaches his disciples how to pray (11.1-2). He prays for Peter (2.32). he prays to His Father once on the Mt of Olives (22.39-46) and twice from the Cross (23.34, 46). As 11.13 makes clear, the Holy Spirit wil be given in response to prayer. But Jesus at prayer is not only the model for Christians, but also the mediator of salvation. The figure of Jesus at prayer is a symbol that Jesus’ power to effect salvation stems from God. In this instance the power comes through God’s gift of the Spirit. Furthermore, Jesus at prayer as he prepares to embark on his mission in the Spirit is paralleled in Luke’s description of the missionary Church in Acts 1.14, 2.1-13.”
Unlike Matthew, Luke does not raise the question of why Jesus should be baptized by John. Rather he establishes John’s arrest and disappearance from the scene before he reports that “Jesus was baptized” (note the passive construction). Too much should not be made of this (see note in NJBC). Some things the Fathers have said about Jesus’ baptism are interesting and valuable seeds of reflection for this feast, and with them we will close for today.
Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, said
St John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, said that. although Jesus was not a sinner, he had still assumed the sinful nature, and the likeness of sinful flesh; therefore although he did not need to be baptized for himself, yet the carnal nature in others had need of it; that is, he was baptized because we need it.
In a beautiful image, St Gregory of Nazianzus said, Christ was baptized, so that he might immerse the whole old Adam in water.
St Augustine of Hippo said that Jesus was baptized because he wished to do what he commanded that all should do.
Ambrose said, This is justice, that what you wish another to do, you first do yourself, to exhort by your example