The imagery of water in the Old Testament strikes me this week, as we prepare to celebrate the sacrament of Baptism in worship on Sunday. The sacrament of Baptism finds its origin in the Gospel narratives of Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21-22 and is uniquely Christian. As theologian Karl Barth put it, “Baptism is the first step of the way of a Christian life which is shaped looking to Jesus Christ.” But the imagery and symbolism of baptism is more ancient, encompassing (but not superseding) the stories and theology of the Old Testament. For John Calvin, Protestant reformer and ‘father’ of our Presbyterian tradition, baptism hearkens all the way back to the covenant God made with Abraham, initiating a relationship between God and humanity. Water, the most basic element of our existence, is the means by which we are baptized, that is, made members of the community of faith, ordained to our discipleship, and cleansed of all that would separate us from God. In prayer, we reach back in our tradition, lifting out the imagery of water as a symbol of new life, refreshment and the cleansing power of God’s covenantal grace. And so, on Sunday, we will hear this prayer:
We give you thanks, Eternal God, for you nourish and sustain all living things by the gift of water. In the beginning of time, your Spirit moved over the watery chaos, calling forth order and life.
In the time of Noah, you destroyed evil by the waters of the flood, giving righteousness a new beginning.
You led Israel out of slavery, through the waters of the sea, into the freedom of the promised land.
In the waters of Jordan Jesus was baptized by John and anointed with your Spirit. By the baptism of his own death and resurrection,Christ set us free from sin and death, and opened the way to eternal life.
We thank you, O God, for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. From it we are raised to share in his resurrection, through it we are reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pour out your Spirit upon us and upon this water, that this font may be your womb of new birth. May all who now pass through these waters be delivered from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from sin to righteousness. Bind them to the household of faith, guard them from all evil. Strengthen them to serve you with joy until the day you make all things new. To you be all praise, honor, and glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns forever. Amen.