I’ve loved the water as long as I can remember. Seriously. My oldest memories involve me swimming in my grandmother’s pool, jumping off the high dive at the local swimming hole for the first time, body surfing in the waters off the Gulf Coast, and jumping off my friends second story roof into his five foot swimming pool over and over again that one day we were supposed to be in school.
Then, there was this time, we had my birthday party at my grandmother’s pool, and this friend of mine started drowning. I just remember hearing a loud commotion of people talking loudly, and then someone screaming that she was going under. My grandmother, decked out in her high-waisted solid white pants suite and white high heels (It was the 80’s), jumped in without hesitation and she saved Leslie.
Water is profoundly powerful and scary. It preserves life and it takes life, and we can never be sure which one it will be.
It turns out, water is also a central character in God story. It appears in the first verses of Genesis as God’s spirit hovers over those primordial waters, hemming them in, as the Psalmist would put it, and then storing the waters in jars, as it were, on the shelves of the heavens. God creates the world in and through water – taking this ancient symbol for chaos – and bringing about something good and lively out of that which was dark and messy.
God renews the world in and through water – using the power of water to cleanse and bring about new life upon the earth in the days of Noah, washing the earth clean of every thought and action that stood against God’s desired and designed way of living in the world.
God rescues the children of Israel in and through water – meeting them in the depths of the Red Sea, making a way of safe passage on their way to a new land, and entrusting to them a new way of living after coming out of those waters. They are no longer enslaved to the old land and the old way of living and they are no longer ruled by the taskmasters of Egypt. No, God’s people have been set free to “enslave” themselves to God’s freeing reign.
As the pages turn throughout Scripture, water continues to be a source for sustaining life and continues to serve as a meeting place between us and God. The New Testament wraps up all of God’s past dealings with humans and water in the rich practice of baptism. Water is profoundly powerful and scary, especially so in baptism.
As it would turn out, baptism, like all experiences with water, preserves life and it takes life and we can be sure that when we come to the waters to meet God it will be both/and, not either/or.
God longs to preserve and take life in and through the water’s of baptism. Perhaps this is what Paul has in mind when he talks to those who have already been baptized – You died. You were buried. AND You were raised to new life.
God, it would seem, wants to take your old life away from you, in exchange for something better…something new.
Remember, before baptism became a doctrine of the church, or a point of debate between various tribes, it was a point of decision in the life of the disciple that would lead them to lean as fully into the kingdom of God as possible, and trust that the Holy Spirit would take them to places they could not go and do things they could not do on their own.
When we come to the water, we trust even today that God meets us there, and in meeting us there God continues to Create, Renew, and Rescue all that would come.