Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Baptism of Christ Who Crushed the Serpent in the Jordan

The following is a poem which serves as a narrative-allegory of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River. It draws particularly from two antiphons from the Office of the Day:

The springs of water were made holy when Christ appeared on earth. Draw water from the wells of the Saviour: Christ our God has made the whole creation holy.

The Saviour crushed the head of the serpent in the river Jordan; he released all men from its power.

Along with the Morning Benedictus antiphon:

Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy; he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.

'The Baptism of Christ,' Ottavio Vannini, 1585-1643.

As scattered people there did dwell
Like thirsty creatures ‘round a well
To hear and heed the locust man—
That crying voice of God’s right hand—
The one of whom he prophesied
Came walking to Jordan’s river side.

Meanwhile John had finished preaching,
In the river, sinners rinsing,
Then looking up his cousin saw
Untying sandals by the shore,
The one who baptised him in womb—
Whom he knew as holy lamb and groom.

Placing sandals upon the dirt
As undergarments he did girt,
Waded in the Creator blest
O’er rush and reeds—looking majest’—
Gently so without them crushing
Which others broke in careless rushing.

Then at last John did apprehend
What Jesus sought and did intend.
So as Christ neared at height of waist
He said to him in timid haste:
“To me thou comes to baptise thee
And yet thou shouldst come to baptise me!”

“Indeed, but let it be for now
As by humble act I make vow
Between the waters low and high
To bridge divide and draw more nigh
Their union one which I’ll repair
Which Adam broke through pride and snare.”

And as these words the Saviour spake
Within those waters swam a snake—
More ancient than the first born man,
Condemned to crawl and eat the land,
But which since Elijah’s parting
Was confined to in the Jordan swim.

Without understanding his speech
John obeyed and on shoulders each
He placed his hands on God in flesh
And plunged him down in water fresh,
Whereat like whale Jonah released,
So Christ His Godhead’s power unleashed.

And although to the naked eye
All seemed normal, except the sky—
Which shone with an unusual glow—
At that moment did waters throw,
Throughout the world, off ancient curse,
And in turn baptised was all the earth.

Then as John loosened his mild hold
Jesus rose up and lo behold!
In sky above a mighty sign—
Heaven opened before John’s eyne—
The Spirit fell as dove on head,
Hov'ring 'bove Christ, as voice it said:

“Behold my dear beloved Son,
In whom I’m pleased, my favourite one.”
Trembling thus in awe and wonder
John looked up, as all in ponder
Looked back and forth at John agape,
The cloud above, and Christ standing straight.

For none save John beheld the sight,
Yet some felt grace, and all saw bright—
The brightly sky that gave away
The hand of God at work that day.
A while did pass in silent pause
Before Christ moved toward desert’s jaws.

All the while beneath now blessed stream,
Writhed the serpent, hidden unseen,
Swimming in rage towards Christ’s feet
Intent on having flesh fangs meet,
But as its fangs were poised to kill,
Christ wading out, crushed snake’s head with heel.