Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of Christ by George Kordis (Greek, born 1956) — egg tempera on wood, 75 x 55 cm.

First Sunday After Epiphany — January 8, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Isaiah 42:1-9 • Psalm 29 • Acts 10:34-43 • Matthew 3:13-17

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Image description: A traditionally painted icon with modern characteristics, Jesus stands in the Jordan River. With his left hand he clutches the cloth draped about his waist and with the right hand Jesus gestures a blessing towards himself. John the Baptist is seen crouching on the left bank of the river. With his outstretched right arm, John touches the top of Christ’s head. John’s gaze is directed upward toward the half-circle mandorla (opening of heaven) at the top of the image. John holds his left hand in an open gesture of receiving. The dove of the Spirit descends along one of the rays extending from the mandorla. Two angels stand with heads bowed and covered hands (an ancient practice of covering dirty calloused hands when approaching royalty) on the right riverbank. Colorful desert shrubbery accents the hilltop behind the angels. A garment wraps around the hill behind John flaps in the wind. In the waters of the Jordan are two schools of fish. Below Jesus’ feet are the gates of hell and a dark serpent being crushed beneath them.

Eternal One: I am the Eternal One. By righteousness I have called you. I will take you by the hand and keep you safe. You are given as a covenant between Me and the people: a light for the nations, a shining beacon to the world. You will open blind eyes so they will see again. You will lead prisoners, blinking, out from caverns of captivity, from cells pitch black with despair. — Isaiah 42:6-7

The voice of the Eternal echoes over the great waters; God’s magnificence roars like thunder. The Eternal’s presence hovers over all the waters. His voice explodes in great power over the earth. His voice is both regal and grand. — Psalm 29:3-4

You already know that God sent a message to the people of Israel; it was a message of peace, peace through Jesus the Anointed—who is King of all people. You know this message spread through Judea, beginning in Galilee where John called people to be ritually cleansed through baptism. You know God identified Jesus as the uniquely chosen One by pouring out the Holy Spirit on Him, by empowering Him. You know Jesus went through the land doing good for all and healing all who were suffering under the oppression of the evil one, for God was with Him. — Acts 10:36-38

And then, the One of whom John spoke — the all-powerful Jesus—came to the Jordan from Galilee to be washed by John. At first, John demurred.
John: I need to be cleansed by You. Why do You come to me?
Jesus: It will be right, true, and faithful to God’s chosen path for you to cleanse Me with your hands in the Jordan River.
John agreed, and he ritually cleansed Jesus, dousing Him in the waters of the Jordan. Jesus emerged from His baptism; and at that moment heaven was opened, and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him, alighting on His very body.
Voice from Heaven: This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.
— Matthew 3:13-17

Today we look at an icon of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. There are many icons of this scene to be found online. In my search for one, I landed on this modern icon from the hand of George Kordis. One difference in this icon caught my attention. It is the posture and position of John in relation to Christ. In most icons of the baptism John stands above Jesus, sometimes even leaning over him with a hand on Jesus’ head. Who George presents is a John crouching, he does not stand taller than Christ, and the extreme stretching of his arm to touch Jesus’ head so wonderfully embodies John’s humility in Jesus coming to him: “I am not worthy to untie his sandals.”

Another detail I marvel at in this icon are the garment billowing in the wind — an indicator of the Spirit’s presence? the thundering, shaking of God’s voice? There is much to explore and meditate on here in the landscape and the waters.

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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