The Jordan River is between Israel and Jordan flowing southward from the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, through Lake Kinneret to the Dead Sea.
The most common explanation for the name of the river is that it derives from the Hebrew words yored Dan (“descending from Dan”).
From its sources, the Jordan flows into the Kinneret, rapidly falling below sea level. South of the Kinneret, it flows down the Jordan valley, a dry area far below sea level which can be one of the hottest places on earth. The Jordan is for most of its length a narrow meandering stream, impossible to navigate by boat. Since the tribes of Israel under Joshua crossed the Jordan to enter Erez Israel after the Exodus from Egypt, the Jordan River has come to have a deep significance for Jews, symbolizing the gateway to the homeland after years of wandering in exile in the desert.
The Bible relates that Joshua led the Israelites to a place across the Jordan from Jericho, and that the waters suddenly and miraculously stopped flowing, enabling the Israelites to cross into the Promised Land. Folklore and mythology have popularized the Jordan as the gateway to Paradise, and crossing it is seen as stepping from a world of troubles to one of peace. The river is also important to Christians because John the Baptist performed baptisms on its banks and Jesus was baptized there.
(picture from “The Land of Jesus p.40 & 41)
Jordan is a modern country, a holy river, and an ancient culture, a timeless physical and spiritual panorama of prophets, miracles, and human faith. The very name of the country JORDAN retains the unique baptismal aura of a holy river and a blessed land. God’s command of righteousness and his promise of eternal love and peace through faith are deeply etched into the earth and memories of Jordan. Visitors and citizens daily walk through the plains, valleys, hills, mountains and streams whose names were forever fixed into human consciousness by the simple deeds and the profound messages of prophets: Abraham, Moses, Lot, Aaron, Elijah, Joshua, Jesus, John the Baptist, and others who walked this land and crossed its river during their missions on earth. Many of the sites where they performed miracles or reached out to ordinary people are identified, excavated, protected and easily accessible to visitors.
Meandering through the Jordan Rift Valley is the River Jordan, a sacred stream of numerous symbols and historical events. The Prophets Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ all crossed it during their lifetimes. The area alongside the river associated with their deeds, just 45 minutes by car from Amman is easily accessible to visitors once again, thanks to new facilities and the impact of the Jordan Israel peace accord of 1994.
The large loop in the Jordan River opposite Jericho has long been identified as the spot where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. It is called Al-Maghtas in Arabic. The importance of Al- Maghtas returns to the worlds preparations for celebrating the third millennium of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the meantime the Jordanian archeological department is occupied with the completion of exploring this historical and religious site. Furthermore, Al-Maghtas is clearly located on the mosaic map found in Madaba church near Mount Nebo, which was discovered in the middle of the sixth century.
Less than two kilometers east of the river is another important place associated with the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist – the settlement of Bethany, where John lived and baptized. John 1:28 refers to it as “Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” In John 10:40 it is mentioned as the place to which Jesus fled for safety after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem: “Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days.”
When Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism, he may well have been in the stark, desolate marl area immediately east of Jordan River and north of Bethany. He spread his message throughout Jordan on several different occasions, including during his last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Matthew 19).
Prayer of the Holy Father:
Let us pause in contemplation
on the banks of the Jordan,
this sacred place in the history of salvation.
Here the Chosen People
passed over to the Promised Land;
here John performed his baptism of repentance;
here the holy Theophany,
the manifestation of the Trinity,
took place at the baptism of Jesus.
As we recall that event with gratitude,
let us call to mind our own baptism
and bless the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Blessed are you, Lord, all-powerful God,
in Christ, the living water of salvation,
you have granted us every blessing
and made of us a new creation.
in the holy signs of our faith
you renew the great events
of creation and redemption.
Bless + this water
and grant that all who are reborn in baptism
may be witnesses and heralds of the Easter
which is constantly renewed in your Church.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.