This sermon was originally preached in the Anglican Parish of Kalamunda-Lesmurdie, on The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, 2024.

Texts: Mark 1.4-11; Acts 19.1-7

Why was Jesus baptised?

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear Saint Paul tell us that John baptized with the baptism of repentance. What did Jesus have to repent of? We all know that Jesus was fully human, but without sin: that’s the doctrine of our Church.

So… why was Jesus baptized?

Christianity can be a ‘head’ faith: especially for us in the West.

We think of faith as an act of the mind: perhaps as believing, sincerely believing, in God… believing the words we say each week from the creed. And so faith becomes, at least in part, a sort of intellectual assent, our agreement with words from a page, with words from the Bible, the words we find in our prayer books… the words we hear week after week, year after year.

We spend a lot of our lives reading… and reading can be quite a disembodied action. I’m sure most or all of us have experienced that… perhaps when, while reading a good book, or watching the TV, time drops away, our physical self drops away, and we enter almost totally into another world, a world of fiction. It’s like we’re not really here, in the flesh, at all.

And of course, nowadays we have our phones. Many of us spend a lot of the day staring into our devices: and in a way, we are not really here while we are doing it. My phone tells me that some days, I spend three hours staring into it, off in another world.

All of this, I believe, gives us a clue to the question I posed a few moments before.

Why was Jesus baptised? Jesus was baptised because we need to be baptised… because we need to come into right relationship with God… and because to do that, we need to wake up, to wake up from our slumber, to put aside distractions, and offer ourselves – all of ourselves – to God.

In being baptised, Jesus offered us a sign. Indeed God, the Holy and Triune God, offered us a sign.

Jesus stepped into the river, stood before John, and was baptised with water. At the moment of his baptism Jesus stood bridging the places of water and air. And at the same time, God, Holy and Triune, bridged creation with the Divine, the created with the uncreated, tearing the very sky asunder in the process. This sign is the activity of God, the three persons of God acting in unison.

In one moment, God’s Son, God with Us, looked upwards to heaven.

God’s Spirit rended the heavens, opened creation to the Divine.

God the Father spoke, declaring to all that Jesus Christ is God’s Son.

It was a sign given to all of us, all of humanity, by all of God.

Jesus didn’t invent baptism. Neither did John. It’s an ancient practice, a ritual with an intention for purification and healing, that goes back thousands of years. Baptism is an ancient part of human culture, and it’s an embodied ritual. It’s not just an action of the mind: it’s an action of the person: mind, body, and spirit.

In our culture, it can be easy to forget the body.

On Monday, New Years Day, I went to the beach with some friends. We went snorkelling over a very shallow reef: that was the first time I’d ever done that. It was remarkable – schools of fish swimming by me, even with me. A King George Whiting, long, submarine shaped, and pale, that swam up to me with curiosity. And favourite of all, as a cat person, a small, grumpy, stripey fish living under a rock, who would come out to chase off any interlopers, including me.

All week I’ve been reflecting on that day and what it says about baptism. Getting into the water, I experienced a sudden, momentary chill; a deep, visceral shiver that went right through me, right through my body. I felt cold, vulnerable… embodied. There’s something in that.

A disembodied faith too easily becomes a comfortable faith; a faith that forgets the bodies of others. The needs of others. But, if we include our bodies in our faith, we remember other people, other bodies, those who may not have their basic needs met. We each need our daily bread. We each need water. We need these things, or we will fall ill, and die. Bodies matter.

Jesus was fully divine, fully human. His body is like our bodies. The hairs on his arms, the hairs on his legs, stood up, as his body stepped into the cold water of the River Jordan.

God took up the ancient ritual of baptism, and used it in a profound way to show us the meaning and purpose of faith. We are to offer all that we are to God. As God gave us life, so we are to offer that life back to God.

That day on the River Jordan, the life of the Trinity, the inner life of God, was disclosed to us. Jesus offered himself to God: all that he was. The Spirit offered herself to God, breaching the heavens. The Father offered himself to God, pronouncing the Incarnation.

That is the interior life of God: an eternal self-offering, an eternal self-giving, of the three persons, each to all. An interior life of joy that we can scarcely comprehend. An interior life of joy so great, that it could not be contained even within God: it bubbled over and burst forth, pouring itself out, speaking forth creation.

This the joy that we too, are called to experience. The joy of being a self-giving people, a people who give all, mind, body, and spirit for one another, and for God.

A body of people who serve one another, who each and all serve one another with joy, giving and receiving. A body of people who build up the Kingdom, who grow into relationship with God, offering ourselves up to the Divine. A body of people, the Body of Christ, the Church.