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The Baptism of the Lord
January 10, 2021

Click here to watch this homily (begins at 35:20).

     You are well acquainted with my fondness for using some of the Cathedral’s wonderful art to help bring the scripture readings to life. I think that the art may do that better than any words of mine! The readings for this feast of the Baptism of the Lord are a case in point.

     The reading from Isaiah spoke of the human need for God in terms of hunger and thirst, and of how God alone satisfies our deepest hunger and thirst, God who gives freely and generously to us, without cost.  The reading also reminded us of how different God’s ways are from our ways (“As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God’s ways above our ways, and God’s thoughts above our thoughts”). No argument there!
And then, in wonderfully vivid imagery, Isaiah spoke of the power of God’s Word to bring new things to life: “For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth.  It shall not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  Are you aware that those words about the power of God’s Word come alive in the intricate carvings of clouds and rain, trees and leaves on the face of this ambo or pulpit? If you’ve never taken time to study this work of art, I hope you will. It’s today’s first reading intricately and beautifully carved in mahogany….

     The Word of God. This Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good time to contemplate that. God’s Word came alive as never before in the ministry of Jesus which got its start when he walked into the waters of the Jordan to receive John’s baptism and heard his Father’s voice proclaim him his beloved Son. And, my friends, God’s Word came alive in our lives, too - at our baptism - that grace-filled moment when the waters flowed over us and God pronounced us beloved sons and daughters.

     We should never tire of returning to that moment; never tire of claiming the birthright that is ours because of our baptism. And even though most of us know of our baptism only from family stories or maybe from photographs, or from a faded, dog-eared certificate, we have ample evidence of our baptism in the ways God’s grace has worked its wonders in our lives over the years, including right now. And to keep us from losing awareness of our baptism, there are ample reminders of baptism throughout this Cathedral church!

     It all starts at the main entrance back there which - even if it is no longer the entrance most of us use (and none of us during the pandemic) – it’s still architecturally and liturgically the point of entrance into the Cathedral, and it’s where you first meet baptism - on one of the great bronze doors where the baptism of Christ is beautifully represented. It’s worthy of a close look and maybe even a touch.

     Then, as you move past the doors and actually enter the cathedral you get another reminder of baptism at the baptistery itself. It’s squarely in your path as if to say: stop a moment! Baptism is where it all started for you, so stop long enough to remember who you are! Sign yourself with the baptismal waters and be renewed in the knowledge of who you are! (Of course, during the pandemic we don’t get to sign ourselves with holy water. Do you miss it? I do. I feel kind of deprived of one of our strongest symbols).

     And it’s a symbol that gets reinforced by words from the First Letter of Peter, words that are carved into the marble floor surrounding the font, words that are most likely from an ancient homily on baptism. For us, they are a powerful reminder of who we are: “A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that (we) may declare the wonderful deeds of God who called (us) out of darkness into marvelous light.”

     Then, when you leave the baptistry and continue down the aisle, you come to the altar where your offering and the offering of all the baptized is joined to the perfect offering of Christ – this altar where simple human gifts of bread and wine become divine gifts: the very Body and Blood of Christ given for us. Above the altar, the Last Supper words of Christ are a constant reminder that we, like the Christ in our midst, are called by our baptism to serve, not to be served.

     And this service to which we are called is brilliantly portrayed in those great windows in the east apse of the cathedral. We are called each day to do what those windows proclaim: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, befriend the stranger, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. Why? Because that’s what Christ did, and that’s what our baptism calls us to do. No wonder, then, that the middle window, which makes sense of the two outer windows, is the baptism window! At the top, Christ stands in the waters of the Jordan, John the Baptist on one side, an angel on the other; below him are pictured two Old Testament stories where water becomes the path through death to life: Moses leading the chosen people through the Red Sea from slavery to freedom, and Noah in his ark, floating over the waters of the Great Flood to safety.

     My friends, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a perfect time for us to wake up to our own Baptism. And if we need reminders – and most of us do - we’ve certainly got them in this Cathedral! If we need encouragement – and most of us do - we have each other, for we walk together on this Christian journey. And if we need empowerment, we have that, too – right here, at the Lord’s table. “All you who are thirsty, come to the waters!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat…Heed me and you shall eat well: you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me that you may have life!”

      My friends, we have come. And there is life. Here is life!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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