|"Everything that happened to Christ let us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father's voice,|
we become sons of God."
St. Hilary of Poitiers
Through His Passion, Death and Resurrection, Christ opened to all men the waters of Baptism through which we can be saved.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had shared with His disciples that He would suffer and die, and He called this His “baptism” with which He said He had to be baptised (Mk 10:38). We can also consider Christ’s passion, death and resurrection as His Passover (Pascha). These two things, Passover and Baptism, are linked. One points to the Old Covenant and the other begins something New.
The original Passover celebrated from the time of the Exodus onwards, marked the deliverance of God’s people from slavery and death into a new life together of freedom to worship God aright. The Church teaches us that this was to point to the Passover of Christ which brings about not a temporary deliverance, but an eternal deliverance. The first Passover in Exodus delivered them temporarily, but the Passover of Christ liberates us for eternity.
The Passover of Christ is offered to all men and is received through Baptism. So by Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, Christ has opened to all men the saving waters of Baptism. We hear in today’s Gospel our Lord speaking about Baptism with Rabbi Nicodemus (although Nicodemus recognises Jesus as his Rabbi). Jesus pronounces solemnly in verse 3 a truth of the Christian faith: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew*, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Christ asserts here the necessity of a new Baptism which is necessary for salvation. This new Baptism was not the Baptism of John, which was merely a symbol of repentance, but a Sacrament which enables men to enter the life of grace; making men into children of God through sanctifying grace.
The blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ on the cross were types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the Sacraments of New Life. Now the world has entered into a new age when it becomes possible for people to “be born of water and the Spirit” so that they can enter into the Kingdom of God.
As children of God who have received the grace of Baptism let us then live not the old way of sin and death, but live by grace the new life of faith, hope and love. In the power of that grace let us renew our desire and resolve to turn away from the old way of sin, and grow in the virtues that Christ through His Spirit seeks to bestow on us.
* The Greek word used here can be translated as “from above” or “again”.
Note: the Church recognises that there is also Baptism of desire for those who were not able to be baptised but nevertheless desired it. She also recognises the Baptism of blood in which a person is martyred for his faith in Christ. And mother Church also recognises the possibility of salvation for those who have not heard Christ’s message, but have sincerely followed God’s will in accordance with their understanding of it. Nevertheless none of this should lead us to underplay the necessity of Baptism and see it as absolutely crucial in the mission of the Church. See Catechism, CCC 1257-1261.