Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
Lord open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
Every priest, deacon, and religious begins each day with this prayer. It is the opening verse of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. These words are the prayer of King David, his prayer for redemption.
David was overcome with emotion. His adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah had been exposed. He was embarrassed and disgraced. He longed to return to God but was afraid to speak, too ashamed to even open his mouth. Yet he knew the only way back to God was through prayer. If God would grant him an audience, if he could reestablish communication, then he could again offer praise. So, from the silence of his brokenness, David cried out in prayer, “Lord open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.”
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, yet in the gospel reading we find Jesus not in the baptismal waters, but at prayer. One question is inevitably asked in association with this Solemnity, and the second is often asked concerning readings where we find Jesus at prayer.
The first question is, “Why was Jesus baptized?” This question has been debated by biblical scholars and theologians for centuries. The central issue is, since baptism washes away sin, and Jesus was free of sin, why was He baptized? Hopefully not oversimplifying the issue, two reasons come to mind.
The first concerns the sacrament itself. From the beginning God prepared us for an understanding of the sacraments. We can trace the development in Biblical texts, starting in Genesis, where the earth was brought forth from the waters, continuing with the cleansing flood of Noah, the Israelite's journey through the Red Sea, and entering the promised land through the waters of the Jordan. In His baptism Jesus transformed the rituals washing's and the baptismal work of John into the fullness of the sacrament of Baptism, to cleansed us from original sin, mark us as a child of God, and blessed us with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
The second reason for Christ's baptism is prefigured in today's first reading, Isaiah was told Israel's time of exile in Babylon was at an end and new life emerged from her purifying sorrow. A divine and wondrous victory was brought forth - her sins were forgiven. The a voice cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord”. With the tender care of a lover, Israel was carried in the strong arm of her shepherd and a new exodus began.
Like the exodus from Egypt and the exodus from Babylon, Jesus baptism is a new exodus, not a geographical exodus, but a spiritual one. In His baptism, the Lord takes us on a new journey - from the bonds of sin into the Divine life in the Spirit. At Jesus' baptism we glimpse into the portals of heaven. In his death on the cross, heaven opened so that we might journey with him to paradise. This exodus took Jesus to the cross. The gift of living water was completed when the blood of the Eucharist and water of Baptism came from Jesus side.
The key issue in the second question often asked is: since Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, and the Trinity is inseparable, in full communion with each other, “Why did Jesus pray?
This question arises because prayer is seen primarily as petition, and we are asked to present our needs in prayer. In the Lord's prayer Jesus instructs us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Yet, the centrality of prayer is not petition, but is a relationship. In the first reading Isaiah is told to give comfort, to speak tenderly to Jerusalem, like a lover who woos his beloved. Prayer is a relationship of love. Luke often describes Jesus at prayer. Jesus prayed for his disciples. He prayed for his followers. He even prayed for his enemies. He presented His heart to the Father. He prayed because He was in love.
Many of us pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the prayers of the saints, or other prayers. These are the prayers of the Church, yet they can become routine. We go through the motions. I've had this experience and I'm sure others have as well. Our prayers lose the essence of communion. They lose the essential quality of lovers longing to be together.
God longs for us like a lover. He longs for an ever deepening and a more intimate union. It is our deepest feelings, thoughts, and words that He desires. Sin separates us from God. It lessens our humanity and induces shame. Through Jesus baptism we are cleansed by His life giving water. The chaff of sin is sifted from the kernel of our true nature. The fire of his love refines us like silver, bringing to life that which is pure and holy, so that we may become one with Him.
David cried out, “Lord open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.” In this Eucharistic celebration, in this banquet of thanksgiving, let us call out in praise for His life giving sacraments. Let us exalt in the wonder of new life. Let us join with David, seeking God like a lover, and cry out, “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.