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The Baptism of the Lord
January 12, 2020


    With all the rain we’ve had this past week, we could probably do without the sprinkling with baptismal water that will accompany our renewal of baptismal promises after the homily. It’s been “water, water everywhere,” hasn’t it - enough water from the heavens without needing more of it in church! It seems there’s no escaping water – not in nature and not even in church, where water is and will always be not just a phenomenon of nature but a sacrament: a sign of death and a sign of life – the death of Jesus and the life of Jesus that in our baptism became our life.

     This feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good time to reflect not only his baptism but on our own.  Baptism.  Often, when I give a tour of the cathedral, I tell people that it is difficult to escape baptism in this cathedral.  Like the water in Seattle, it’s everywhere.  All around us.  You meet it first out at the front doors where Christ’s baptism is there in bronze.  Then, you meet baptism again as you enter the cathedral.  The saving waters are right there in your path - in the baptistery and in the holy water fonts - like they were for the chosen people of old who entered the Promised Land only after going through the waters of the Red Sea.  The waters of the baptistery are there to remind, to refresh, and to challenge.  It is difficult to escape baptism in this cathedral!

     But baptism doesn’t stop at the front doors or in the center aisle!  Once you have crossed through the waters, so to speak, if you look up and beyond, you meet baptism yet again.  That beautiful central stained-glass window in the east apse is the baptism window. It’s today’s gospel story in glass and in glorious color. Jesus stands in the waters of the Jordan, John the Baptist on one side, an angel on the other, and over his head and down his body flow the waters of baptism. Above him, the heavens stand open and the Spirit of God hovers, the same creative spirit who hovered over the dark waters at the dawn of creation when God said “Let there be light!”

     And there is even more of baptism in that window:  There are two Old Testament prefigurings of baptism.  If you look carefully you will see that the waters of the Jordan don’t stop at Jesus: they flow downward by some mystical gravity, becoming, first, the waters of the Red Sea through which Moses led the chosen people to the Promised Land, and then, at the bottom of the window, they become the waters of the great flood over which Noah and his family and friends floated to freedom in the safety of the Ark.  “Water, water everywhere!”  It is difficult to escape baptism in this cathedral.

     My friends, the church is wise in knowing that we need reminders of our baptism, and the church is wise in giving us each year this feast of the Baptism of Christ.  What happened to Jesus that day in the waters of the Jordan is not all that different from what happened to you and to me the day we were baptized.  Thanks to the mysterious power of sacrament, the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended upon us, and God’s voice proclaimed us beloved. 

     My friends in Christ, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ’s baptism today, let us recall our own baptism, and let us be glad that it is very difficult in St. James Cathedral to escape baptism!  Considering what baptism is all about, who would want to?!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303