(NOTE: This is a short meditation preached on this weekend before an extended Rite of Thanksgiving at the Font and Affirmation of Baptism by the Assembly)
I was watching the news on Tuesday, and they featured an image from Washington State where there has been considerable flooding and mudslides as the result of recent heavy rain storms. The video clip they showed was of a 2 story house that had broken off of its foundation and was floating down a surging river. Seeing this image, I couldn’t help but to reflect on the nature of water as threatening, chaotic, powerful. In the midst of the storms that have been soaking the West Coast, even parts of Southern California as far down as San Diego have received above normal rainfall for an entire year within the last couple of months. And while this is good news overall, the truth is that the region is in a 7 year drought and even the flooding rains they’ve received lately have barely begun to provide relief to this drought stricken region.
Thinking about these drought conditions, I can’t help but to consider another aspect of the nature of water. We can’t live without it. It’s life-giving.
This dual nature of water, as both threatening and dangerous and uncontrollable, and also necessary and good and life-giving, is reflected in the creation story found in Genesis 1 as God sets boundaries for the water and the land, the same as God sets boundaries between light and dark, day and night and the rest. God’s creative activities as recorded in this creation story are all about bringing order to chaos. And yet, chaos still rears its head from time to time. Waters surge and rage and destroy, but not always, and not as the norm. The norm in creation is order, and for that we give thanks to God…
Water, of course, and the presence and blessing of God the Holy Spirit, are integral parts of our understanding of what happens in Holy Baptism.
Water serves a dual purpose again here.
As one goes down into and under the water, the symbol evokes one going down into the grave – dying with Christ and being buried with him. Then, as that one is brought up out of the water, the symbol is that of resurrection – bursting forth from the grave as a new creation in Christ.
Some of the power of this symbolism is lost in the way we normally baptize – holding a beautifully dressed baby safely above the water, pouring small shelffuls, or handfuls, of water over their foreheads away from their faces. The images of death and resurrection can be hard to see in such a practice. But the images of death and resurrection ought to be evoked by the symbolic actions as we see a baptism happening. And we ought to be reminded of the One who holds the power over life and death, who breathes life into our dead clay forms in, by and through the power of the Holy Spirit (the very breath of God. The Hebrew word for spirit and breath are the same.).
Of course, water in baptism also serves as the image of washing and renewal
Water has an amazing capacity to cleanse and restore things that are soiled, and, as such, becomes for us the symbol of spiritual cleansing in Holy Baptism. But as Scripture and the writings of Luther in the Small Catechism make clear, this is no ordinary washing with water, but a washing of regeneration. This isn’t about removing dirt from the outward self, but about bringing to life that which is dead, and this bringing to life happens in, by and through the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God.
That same breath of God that blew over the primordial waters of creation, that now blows through the one being baptized.
That same breath of God that blew into Adam’s nostrils and made him a living being, that now blows into the one being baptized, bringing about a whole new creation. As the language of the Lutheran Book of Worship put it: We were born children of a fallen humanity. In baptism, we are reborn children of God.
And this is the same breath, or Spirit, of God that descends upon Jesus like a dove at his baptism by John in the Jordan, And the same breath of God that empowers the believers in Ephesus to prophesy, that is, to proclaim the word of God publically, whatever the nature of the language may be, and it’s this same breath of God that comes to breathe through us, as well, as we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and as we, like Jesus, our brother-Lord, are claimed by God the Father as beloved daughters and sons with whom God is well pleased…
There is, in a sense, a strong continuity between our baptism and Jesus’. But there is also a strong discontinuity in ways.
We are baptized as those conceived and born in sin, standing in need of forgiveness, captive to sin and unable to free ourselves. And in that way our baptism is not at all the same as Jesus who was like us in all things, but without sin. But in this same point we find the strong point of continuity, in that Jesus comes to be baptized, not because he needs to repent and be forgiven himself, but because he has come to stand with us in and through all the stuff of life.
In this sense, as we’re baptized, we’re joined to Christ who is baptized, and also joined to all those who have been, or ever will be baptized, in every time and place, into the one faith, one hope and one baptism, and we’re made children of the one God and Father of all…
In a few moments we’re going to invite those who were baptized during this past year to come forward to join us at the font, and, together, we’ll confess the faith and affirm our Baptism. And as we do so, I encourage you to take seriously, and to consider deeply, what these promises mean for our manner of living as God’s people in Christ, as those called to reflect God’s life and love, not just when we’re together in the safety of this community and this building, but out there in the world all the more, where chaos still rages from time to time, and we put our whole trust in the One who names us and claims us as beloved daughters and sons!