February 18, 2024

The Waters of Baptism

The Waters of Baptism

Sermon First Sunday of Lent 18 February
Readings: Gen. 9. 8-17; 1 Peter 3. 18-22; Mark 1. 9-15
Theme: The waters of baptism

On this our first Sunday of Lent we are presented with the theme of the waters of baptism to launch us on the journey of this Lenten season. In this part of the world, water is a particularly scarce commodity. Our reservoirs are at historic lows and we are threatened by a severe water shortage and consequent rationing measures. Our use of water could not be a more important theme for us this Lent and we might take the opportunity today to review how we use water so that we are living responsibly. We might repeat the following mantra to ourselves this Lent as we review of lifestyles: “I live simply, so that others may simply live”.

So, what do our readings say about water that helps us to understand the meaning of this Lenten season? Our first reading from the Book of Genesis speaks of that wonderful Bible story of the flood and Noah’s Ark saving some eight people and animals from the devastation brought to the earth because of the immorality of the early Israelites. The flood in this story is God’s way of cleansing the earth from its wickedness (Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and the immorality of the sons of God). Water here symbolized in the flood, is a powerful metaphor for both the creative and destructive powers of the earth. It brings life through its capacity to moisturize the earth and quench the thirst of animals, and it brings death through its ability to saturate all air breathing creatures. It truly is a double edged sword carrying both life and death within itself.

But there is another beautiful symbol in our first reading today from the Book of Genesis: the symbol of the rainbow. This is the sign that God gives to Noah, a sign of the New Covenant made with all living creatures that “never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood.” This symbol of the rainbow is an intimation of what is to come later in Christian history. We, as Christians, can read this as a symbol of the Covenant made with us in Jesus, who protects us from the flooding waters of sin, evil and death. This is a theme that we will develop next week as we shall explore the meaning of the New Covenant. And the wonderful thing about this new symbol of the rainbow is that it magnificently portrays the way in which God is present to us through Jesus. Jesus is present to us wherever we are. Just like a physical rainbow that we see following the rains, a rainbow does not have a fixed location. It appears to us through the light rays being refracted through the water particles and appearing on our retinas as the image of rainbow. God is present to us in this rainbow-like way. God is in no fixed location, but present to us in every location through the light of the Holy Spirit who penetrates every corners of the waters of our baptism to make himself present to us: Emmanuel, God with us.

This theme of the waters of baptism is taken up by both our second reading from 1 Peter and our Gospel from St Mark. In 1 Peter, we are introduced to the theme of baptism in the context of the sufferings and death of Christ, which are symbolized in the water of baptism. It is through being plunged into the sufferings and death of Christ that we are saved to new life in the resurrection. And to understand this point, it is important to know that the meaning of the word “baptism” is literally to be submerged in water. In other words, water as a symbol of baptism is a way of depicting the passage we make from death with Christ to resurrection in him. Just as when you see a full immersion baptism in a swimming pool, you can see the person going under the water and coming out, so too the life of the Christian is to be plunged into the death of Christ so that we can come out the other side to share in Christ’s resurrected life. This is the life of the New Creation, which is inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ.

These themes are made explicit in the New Testament account of the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. Here we see the full extent of the meaning of the waters of baptism. “Just as Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens open and the Spirit descends on him like a dove…You are my Son, whom I love.” This Trinitarian declaration in the waters of the Jordan reveals who this Jesus is, the Son of God, and the true nature of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But more than that; this Gospel passage reveals that this Trinitarian God is not simply revealed as God for God’s sake. No, this Trinitarian God is a God for our sake: God for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yes, the waters of baptism reveal that this God who comes to us through the saving act of redemption is the God who dies for us so that we may live. The baptism of Jesus is thus none other than the symbol of his death, his death on the cross. This death is a plunging under the waters of baptism to quench the air out of the Son of God, so that all the creation may breathe anew through the new air of the Holy Spirit who will resurrect this same Jesus to new life in the New Creation. Once again the Spirit hovers over the void and brings order out the watery chaos, as it did in the first story of creation in the Book of Genesis. But now the order that will be brought out of these new waters of baptism will be the resurrection of Jesus, the firstborn from the dead as the embodiment of the New Creation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.