I get goosebumps every time I attend a baptism. Whether it’s an infant or an adult being baptized, I feel like I’m transported back to my own baptism, every time.
I don’t actually remember my own baptism as a baby, of course, but celebrating the sacrament of baptism always awakens my interconnectedness with all the baptized in Christ.
Like ligaments connecting muscles to bones, baptism unites us all as one body in Christ. On account of our faith, we know that baptism really and truly unites us to Him.
In the liturgy of baptism that reality becomes truly present. The signs and symbols of water, candles, and white garments allow us to visualize and feel that connectedness. All these elements are necessary because as the reality of everyday life is visible and tangible, our union with Christ and his Church needs to be visible and tangible too.
That’s why Christ had to be baptized. It was for our sake, not his. How important was it, though?
All four Evangelists highlight the significance of Jesus’ baptism at or near the beginning of their Gospel. All four of them build up to it by introducing the controversial and charismatic figure of John the Baptist. All four use vivid imagery to place you at the scene with Jesus and John.
Envision yourself with them: The sky opens up, a voice resounds from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, like a dove.
These not so everyday occurrences are important for us to imagine, because they engage our senses, allowing us to contemplate three powerful realities:
One, the epic proportions emphasize who Jesus is: God the Son made man for us. The magnitude of the moment prompts us to follow him. We literally do follow him, in fact, into the waters of baptism, and in dying and rising to everlasting life. So, the epic dimension of the Gospel narrative is certainly called for here.
Two, baptism’s importance is paramount – IT’S HUGE! Sky rending, dove descending, God’s voice resounding HUGE. When you meditate on it, using the Gospel narrative to place yourself on site, your baptism and every baptism you witness for the rest of your life becomes HUGE.
Three, how huge? Consider the effects of baptism: forgiveness of all sin and punishment for sin; becoming a child of God; the gates of heaven being opened to your soul… Meditating on Christ’s baptism in the Jordan make these effects vividly real, not merely a theological teaching, but a lived experience involving both body and imagination. Our whole being becomes immersed in this great mystery of salvation brought about through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and conferred on us by the waters of baptism.
This is why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John testify to the importance of Jesus’ baptism. It was completely necessary – not for His sake but ours, as a sign for us to follow him. As Jesus said to John,
“For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”