“Salvation comes through washing, and the Spirit through water; by descending into the water we ascend to God.” - From the Matins Service for the Feast of the Theophany
Now that Epiphany has passed, I find myself reflecting on its meaning. It is a very familiar story, perhaps too familiar. Christ comes to St. John to be baptized. The question we ask is the same one that St. John the Baptist asked – why? How is it that Christ should come to one of his own servants to be baptized? As the hymns of the Forefeast have St. John the Forerunner ask, “I have never sounded the heights of heaven. Can I count the stars, or measure the universe? How can I, the Forerunner, touch Your head with my hand, O Lord? How can I baptize the One Who sustains the creation?” The most common answer is that it was just a symbolic gesture or an example to his followers. I am not so sure anymore.
As we moved through the services on this most Holy Day what became apparent from all the hymns and readings is that Christ being washed in the Jordan is an essential part of salvation. This leads me to the conclusion that my sense and understanding of the salvation of Christ until now has been mostly mistaken. For most of my life I have followed that which I was taught, the predominant view of the Christian culture in which I grew up. That is that salvation was purchased by Christ’s death and resurrection – everything else was but prelude.
You have sanctified the streams of the Jordan and crushed the power of sin,
O Christ our God; You have bowed Your head under the hand of the Forerunner,
and have delivered mankind from error. Therefore we pray to You: save Your world.
I now begin to see salvation as much broader. Salvation is brought about through every aspect of Christ’s life, and our participation in it. His baptism is as much a part of our salvation as is the crucifixion. In fact, if I may be so bold to say, the baptism is perhaps even more important than the crucifixion. Salvation is not about death. It is about a life of sanctity and devotion to God.
Christ who is above all purity is baptized with us;
He brings sanctification to the water and it becomes a cleansing for our souls…
He Who covers the heaven with clouds is Himself covered today by the streams of the Jordan;
He Who takes away the sin of the world is cleansed, that I might be made clean.