Angelico, fra, approximately 1400-1455. Baptism of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved January 7, 2022]. Original source:

RCL Year C, Epiphany 1
Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Saint Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22

We have administered Holy Baptism at the Eucharist often enough to recognize these words: “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”[1]

They are very important to understanding the Lessons appointed for today, the Baptism of Christ. The Gospel and the Lesson from Acts imply at least three different baptisms of which we need to be aware as we individually and corporately work out our salvation.

The first baptism is that of John the Baptist. He says of it, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming;…[h]e will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[2] John distinguishes between his and Jesus’ baptism. John uses water, and he acknowledges that Jesus’ baptism includes the Holy Spirit and fire. And so, the second baptism is Jesus’ baptism. It is Holy Baptism as we have administered it and as we have received it in our baptisms. It is a baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it includes the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The third baptism is the one we heard about in Samaria in the reading from Acts. That baptism was “in the name of the Lord Jesus,”[3] but, somehow, that baptism did not confer the Holy Spirit. The clear suggestion in this reading is that the apostles were not involved in the baptisms. The apostles in Jerusalem make up for the defect and dispatch Peter and John to those baptized in Samaria who lay hands on them, and they then receive the Holy Spirit.

Why am I troubling you by identifying three separate baptisms? I am doing that to assure you that the baptism administered in the church with the involvement of bishops, the successors to the apostles, is the fullest and completest baptism that we, guided by the Scriptures, are humanly able to conceive and administer. By including all the elements of the baptisms that we discern, we are giving God every opportunity to act. Through the church we are including all the elements we know to belong to proper baptism to leave nothing out and to prevent any defect that we know.

But Christian baptism is not magic. It cannot override our agency, our will. We must agree to it and coöperate with it. Just as Jesus willingly took up his cross, died, and was raised, so too we must take up our cross and live his death to be raised in him. For this reason, the petition in the Collect of the Day is that we “may keep the covenant [we] have made, and boldly confess [Jesus] as Lord and Savior.”[4] For every single one of us, that is the way forward. That is the way to live.

[1] BCP, page 306.

[2] Saint Luke 3:16.

[3] Acts 8:16.

[4] BCP, page 214.