Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Waters of death and life

Read Colossians 2:6-14

Water is a beautiful and dangerous thing. Without it, we die. And so we fear the desert, drought, thirst. On the other hand, too much water is devastating. And so we fear floods, storms at sea, a tippy canoe. The waters of birth can sometimes become the waters of death.

This two-sided nature of water is present in the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. The Sea of Reeds, when they first came to it, seemed to them an obstacle to their liberty. Yet this obstacle became the very means of freedom as God opened the sea to let the Hebrews pass dry-shod. The sea closed over the Egyptians, becoming for them a tomb. Both life and death can be found in water.

John the Baptist called people to be plunged in water as a sign of their need to be washed from their sins. Like a New Year’s resolution, John’s baptism allowed a person to express his or her desire to die to the past and live for the future, to make a clean break and start over again. We think of the sinner’s prayer in Psalm 51: “Lord, wash me thoroughly of my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin.” And we remember the Lord’s answer in Ezekiel 36: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness… I will put my spirit within you… You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

For Christians, baptism is even more than the expression of our need for purification and our desire for change. In his letter to the Romans, probably written around the year 57, Paul describes baptism as being plunged into the death of Christ so that, one day, we might rise with him to new life. With Christ, we have died to sin in order that we might live for love, for grace.

In his letter to the Colossians, which most specialists believe was written five years later, Paul’s thought goes even further: our resurrection is already accomplished, because in baptism we have put our faith in the One by whose power Christ was raised. Already, that power, which we know as Christ’s Spirit, is active within us, transforming us into the likeness of Christ, making us sons and daughters of God!

In a very real sense, Christian life is all about catching up with the reality that has already taken hold of us. Baptism is not only something that happened to us in the past, it is an act whose consequences spread out in our daily lives like waves from a rock thrown into a pool. Certainly it is true to say “On such a date in the past was I baptized.” Yet it is perhaps truer to say: “I AM baptized. More today than yesterday. Less today than tomorrow.”

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