Recorded in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22, each account tells of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist. When Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the voice of the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
We visited two sites on the Jordan River–one close to where the Sea of Galilee flows into it and the other further south, in the desert, where it is likely that Jesus was baptized. The river is much smaller than I’d imagined, having grown up on the St. Marys and Crooked Rivers in South Georgia. It’s also muddier than I expected. I had always imagined Jesus being baptized in crystal clear waters; not muddy waters. There are some good lessons in that.
No matter my preconceptions, these ancient waters reminded us all of our baptism and the voice from heaven that speaks of our belovedness in Jesus Christ.
At both sites, people from many Christian traditions were being baptized and remembering their baptisms. Priests sprinkled and sprayed congregants with hyssop branches dipped in the river. Pastors immersed. Others poured and sprinkled from the shore.
A light-hearted debate arose on the group about whether or not Jesus was immersed. The scripture does, after all, say that “he went up out of the water.” Interestingly much of the ancient art that we have seen so far illustrate Jesus standing upright in the Jordan with John pouring water over his head. Similarly, we saw people being sprinkled while standing in the river. Guess what they had to do afterwards? They had to come up out of the water!
It really is a light-hearted conversation for many of us because United Methodists, despite popular belief, recognize all 3 modes of baptism: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion.
Either way, at Jordan River, we felt the weight and glory of our baptism and joined together in a service of baptismal remembrance and reaffirmation.
Our United Methodist understanding of baptism holds that baptism is effective when it is administered and is not repeated. I’ll save the long explanation for later, but even if we are baptized as infants or have fallen short of our baptism, our baptism still holds true. While we may often fail our covenants and promises to God, God never fails God’s promises to us. And in baptism God makes the promise that we are his beloved children and a part of his family known as the church.
As we shared in this service, some chose to remember on the shore. Some in the river. I had the joy of sharing the service with the Revs. Mike Ricker, Meg Procopio, and John Haney.
At the end of the remembrance service, I was able to share a special and holy moment with Mike as we led each other in remembering our baptisms–pouring water over the other while standing on the Jordan River.