In this month of the Rosary, take a moment to reflect on the First Luminous Mystery.
Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby. – St. Gregory of Nyssa
Why did the Lord descend into the waters of the River Jordan? Christ had no need to be cleansed of his sins. He did not inherit the scar of that first sin of Adam and Eve, original sin, nor did he himself ever commit any personal sins. For this reason, John, who leapt in the womb in the mystery of the Visitation, leaps again. This time, John leaps in protest: John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14).
So why was Christ baptized? St. Thomas Aquinas suggests, “Christ was baptized, not that He might be cleansed, but that He might cleanse.” Like St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom before him, Aquinas sees in the mystery of the Lord’s baptism the opening of the floodgates of cleansing sacramental waters for the world. While the waters of baptism wash us, it was Christ who first cleansed the waters.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
It was no coincidence that our Lord’s baptism took place at the River Jordan. The Israelites first entered the promised land by crossing the river. Reminiscent of the crossing of the Red Sea, the crossing of the Jordan, however, is no mere escape; it is an arrival. Crossing the Jordan is something new, more powerful. In the spiritual life, we cross the River Jordan, not simply having fled sin, but, by the power of baptism, we become children of God. We dwell in a new place, invited to live in a new home.
Neither is it mere coincidence or dramatic effect that the heavens should open and a voice be heard. For, when we celebrate the mystery of holy baptism, the Holy Trinity becomes present—even making our hearts its special dwelling place.
The Carmelite mystic St. Elizabeth of the Trinity contends, “At every moment of the day and night the three Divine Persons are living within you […] there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again!” The persons establish a union with us. By holy baptism, we have not simply escaped sin; we have run to the embrace of the three persons. There is not absence, there is communion.
By holy baptism, we are able to gaze into the heavens. The grace of supernatural faith, imparted by the pouring of water and the pronouncement of the Trinitarian formula, makes it possible for us to contemplate divine things. Heaven, therefore, opens not only in the baptism of Christ, but at the baptism of every soul.