The Baptism of Christ – 11 January 2021
Here Jesus stands naked and waist deep in the river Jordan to be baptised by John. Jesus is the only one standing in the water. On either side the cragged rocks break to allow the passage of the river, so focussing our attention on the baptism. There are figures left and right: angels and men. On the left angels, depicted as female, stand holding Jesus’ clothes. On the right John the Baptist is one of three men of different ages. He is dressed in camel hair and a cloak, stretches out his hand.
There is a burst of light from above revealing a figure with an extended right hand – the anthropomorphized voice of God declaring Sonship of Jesus, that he is Beloved. An image of the Spirit as a dove can be just discerned in the degraded paint above Jesus’ head. There is direct eye contact between Jesus and John, revealing a sombre mutual understanding of the meaning of this moment. The cruciform halo of Jesus is an allusion to the sacrificial significance of the event. Jesus is here anointed for ministry and service.
The image here is a fresco by Giotto from the Arena Chapel in Padua. (1303/5). In that space this fresco sits above the fresco of the crucifixion.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
In the waters of Jordan
penitents found forgiveness in the baptism of John.
There, Jesus your beloved child
was anointed with the Holy Spirit,
that he might bring us
to the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Send upon this water and upon your people
your holy, life-giving Spirit.
Bring those who are baptised in this water
with Christ through the waters of death,
to be one with him in his resurrection.
Sustain your people by your Spirit
to be hope and strength to the world.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be honour and glory, now and for ever.
Scottish Episcopal Church, Baptism Liturgy