Oh, how the waters of the Jordan must have been swirling with excitement that day.
The river had already been busy with activity as the man named John had chosen this spot to baptize and help prepare for the coming of one “greater than he.”
But when the Rabbi approached the banks and his two unblemished feet stepped into the waters, something must have changed.
The water’s current must have slowed down – hoping to savor every moment. The fish and all the creatures of the river had to be swimming with excitement as they detected their creator in the water.
But why was he here? What need did he have to receive the waters of baptism?
Jesus, unknown to all but one above the water’s edge, made his way toward John, who also protested at the thought of baptizing the Lord. His Lord.
But Jesus insists. Let it be done.
So, under the water he goes.
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1: 7-11
Now, we don’t know how long Jesus was under the water. In most cases of a baptism that we see, the event is rather quick – down, up, halleluiah!
But Jesus is on a mission. What takes just a few seconds for those who may have been watching, took much longer for our Lord, who lives in his own time zone and is not limited to the constraints of seconds, minutes and hours, the way we are. He sees all.
Under the water.
The sound of John, slightly muffled, reaches his ears. A dove begins to pierce the sky above.
Jesus, still submerged, turns to the left and opens his eyes.
The fish clear a path and our Lord looks back in time.
He sees Noah and his Ark, floating above the surface, looking for land, waiting to be saved from the flood. He sees Moses and Joshua, leading his people out of the suddenly turbulent waters of the Red Sea (while others are not so fortunate). He sees entire generations of his Father’s chosen people, drowning in sorrows and sinfulness, waiting to be pulled out of the waters.
Jesus turns to the right and opens his eyes again.
He sees into the future. He sees the waters rising to fill the baptismal fonts of his church. He watches a young Bernadette clawing at the dirt until the healing waters of Lourdes begin to bubble up. He sees us – each one of us individually and at the same time – being baptized into his church, baptized into Him.
His focus returns to the present and he comes out of the water.
So many things happen at this moment – there is no wonder why heaven is ripped open and a dove descends onto the scene.
As St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes:
“Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him.”
During this very moment, Jesus blesses the waters of baptism for all of us.
He repairs the scar left by Adam and makes it possible for those in waiting to emerge from the water with Him.
He reveals himself to John through the presence of the dove and the voice from the sky.
He begins his earthly ministry and mission.
For a brief second (measured by man), the gates of heaven are open as the glory of our Lord is made apparent in the waters of baptism.
And once again we are witness to the mystery of God’s constant cleansing of our souls through the water made holy on that day – at that moment – in the River Jordan.
As today’s Psalm says:
For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.