For over two thousand years, people from all over the world have come to be baptized. And where do we come? We come to fonts and pools, to lakes and rivers and oceans. We come to water, just as Jesus came to the river Jordan. We come to be sprinkled, and splashed, and dunked. But why? Why do we need to get wet, for this sacrament of the church?
Imagine, if you can, what access to water meant for people in the ancient near east: communication; trade; agriculture; livestock; and something to drink at the end of a hot, dry day. Water meant survival in that desert land. Water meant life.
So perhaps it is not surprising that we find water everywhere in our sacred scriptures. At the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God broods over the face of the waters. In the Garden of Eden, a river flows. Water destroys and renews the earth in the story of Noah. The baby Moses is discovered among the reeds in a river, and leads his people across a parted sea into the wilderness, where they receive water from a rock. The psalmist tells us that God, our shepherd, will lead us besides still waters. The prophet Isaiah proclaims that we will draw water from the wells of salvation.
We do not live in the ancient near east. Our relationship with water has changed. Most of us have access to water through faucets conveniently located throughout our homes. We even have automatic systems to warm our water before it pours out on us from a shower head. But sadly, that water that seems so accessible, even disposable, today, is only more precious than it was two thousand years ago. Due to population and pollution and climate change, drinkable water is becoming a luxury commodity that corporations are eager to buy up, and nations are prepared to go to war over. More than one in six people around the world have trouble finding clean water to drink.
Why do we get wet, when we come to be baptized? Water reminds us that we are a part of God’s creation, which She calls good. Water reminds us of God’s saving power, flowing forth even in times of desolation. Water offers us physical and spiritual renewal, a return to our true identity as children of God. Water reminds us of our sacred responsibility to the communities and creation we are a part of.
So when we welcome someone into the family of Jesus, and call upon the Holy Spirit, we use water. Like the bread and cup of communion, this water helps us to experience a God who is both intimately present, and awesomely far away.
Lord, pour out your Holy Spirit now and renew us. Satisfy all our thirst with your living water. Amen.