As we approach Baptism of the Lord Sunday, quite a few people have been accessing a prayer I composed a few years ago. In it, I address the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ …
who sanctified and blessed the water of baptism for all Christians through his own baptism by John,
This is not a new idea. In “Not to Be Cleansed, but to Cleanse,”Catholicity and Covenant quotes Thomas Aquinas, who in turn quotes Ambrose and Chrysostom.
It was fitting for Christ to be baptized. First, because, as Ambrose says on Luke 3:21: “Our Lord was baptized because He wished, not to be cleansed, but to cleanse the waters, that, being purified by the flesh of Christ that knew no sin, they might have the virtue of baptism”; and, as Chrysostom says (Hom. iv in Matth.), “that He might bequeath the sanctified waters to those who were to be baptized afterwards.”
Continuing to quote the Church Fathers, Thomas goes on to speak about Christ’s baptism as his taking on humanity’s sin and setting the example for others to follow. I think modern Christians are perhaps more familiar with these last two ways of understanding the baptism of Jesus by John. I have come to see the power, however, in this third perspective that our Christian forebears brought to the story of our Lord’s own baptism, one which enriches our appreciation of Christ’s work in the church’s baptismal waters today.