The Baptism of Christ
Readings: Isaiah 43. 1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8. 14-17; Luke 3. 15-17, 21-22 (view all)
I’m in the rather unusual position for an Anglican of being able to remember my baptism. I wasn’t baptised until I was fourteen, and again unusually for an Anglican church, St Michael’s in Aberystwyth, where I was baptised has a full sized adult baptistry.
So I was baptised in my Manchester United football shirt — I remember that vividly — by full immersion!
It may be that you can remember your baptism like me, or that it happened before you can remember when you were an infant, or that you haven’t yet been baptised. God works in different ways with different people, and whether you are dunked or sprinkled, as an infant or as an adult, we believe in the same, one, baptism.
Each year on this Sunday, we are drawn to the theme of baptism, and, in this year’s gospel reading particularly, the role of the Holy Spirit. So, as we reflect on our readings, what does it mean to be a baptised Christian? Why does it matter? And what role does the Holy Spirit play in all of this?
In our gospel reading, John wants to make clear to the crowd that the baptism he offers is different to the one that Jesus will offer — the one which the Church throughout the world offers today. But both on the surface seem identical — both involve immersion in, or sprinkling with, water — so how is Jesus’ baptism different?
John actually answers this question himself:
I baptise you with water [alone]; but one who is more powerful than I is coming… He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
There is something about the role of the Spirit that is unique to Christian baptism — the kind the first Christians began to offer. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul explains that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, of turning away from sin and asking for forgiveness.
But Jesus’ baptism is this and more! It is not just a turning away from evil, but also a turning towards new life in Jesus. This new life of the Holy Spirit is a new life made possible by the resurrection, a new life which begins in the present and stretches into eternity, beyond the grave.
And the dramatic role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ own baptism provides with some clues to the role of the Spirit in our lives, the lives of the baptised, today.
Just as the Holy Spirit confirms Jesus’ identity as the Beloved Son of God, so the Spirit also confirms our identity as God’s beloved children, called to share that love and care with others.
And just as the Holy Spirit rests on Jesus like a dove, so we are also able to know the Spirit’s presence resting on us, an assurance of God’s presence with us no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
Similar to the promise of God’s presence in our Old Testament reading, through the Spirit’s presence in our lives today, God promises to be with us through thick and thin:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
And, just as the new Christians in Samaria received the Holy Spirit from Peter and John in our New Testament reading, there is always the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit in a fresh way, whether for the first time, to begin a new chapter in our lives, or to strengthen us in the everyday.
So, I wonder: Each time we gather for worship, for the Eucharist, will we invite God’s Spirit to fill us afresh with God’s love for us and with the joy of new life?
For some, a special opportunity for this may come by receiving the sacrament of Confirmation from the Bishop — I hope we will be able to provide the opportunity for those who would like to be confirmed later this year, and this invitation will be open to anyone who hasn’t yet been confirmed, whatever age, whether young or old.
However the Spirit’s invitation is not just open to us when we are gathered for something special, it is also open to us in the everyday and the ordinary.
So, whether it’s at the beginning of a new day, or at a moment we feel particularly sad or anxious or lonely, or when we’re facing a situation that we really can’t see a way out of — will we remember the Spirit’s invitation then and invite God’s love to enfold us, and his Spirit to strengthen us to be able to face whatever might come our way?
In his book, Being Christian, Rowan Williams writes:
In the life of baptised people, there is a constant rediscovering, re-enacting of the Father’s embrace of Jesus in the Holy Spirit. The baptised person is not only in the middle of human suffering and muddle, but [also] in the middle of the love and light of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That surely is one of the most extraordinary mysteries of being Christian.
Through baptism, Jesus invites us into his new life — empowered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. May we know the joy of the Spirit’s presence with us today, in this Eucharist, and in our everyday lives.
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
grant that we who are born again
by water and the Spirit
may rejoice to be called your children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.