On Easter Sunday 2006, Oasis Madrid celebrated the rite of baptism with Monaca Thomas. Following is a short homily I gave just before her baptism.
a short sermon by Troy Cady
Everything begins and ends with water. In the beginning, even before the creation of light, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Even before God created the sun and the moon, God created water. Yes, there was once a time that all was just God, light, and water. Then, God separated “water from water”, creating the sky. After that, God gathered “the water below”, and in so doing, created dry land, and that was day three. On day five, the first moving creatures God created lived in the water. It wasn’t until day six that God created the creatures that move on the dry ground, including man. And thus, in a truly biblical sense, life has its beginning in water. And it was very good.
But something went wrong. Humans rebelled. So, before 11 generations had passed, God made an end and a beginning to everything by covering the whole earth in water (and thus God brought creation back to the beginning, a time when all was water). It sounds strange to say this about the Great Flood of the days of Noah, but it’s true: the water gave humans a fresh start, another chance, a new beginning.
But, sadly, we all know how that turned out, now don’t we? Over time, at least two classes of people emerged: the slaves and their masters, the oppressed and their captors.
So, in the time of Moses, God set everything right through parting the waters of the Red Sea to make a way for the enslaved Israelites to pass through. The freedom purchased through the death of a perfect lamb on Passover found its completion in the midst of water. The Exodus reminds us: God performs miracles through water. God brings final deliverance and liberation through water. God does the impossible through water.
Is it any surprise, then, that Jesus’ ministry begins and ends with water? Jesus’ commences his ministry by becoming baptized with water. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the water, even then. We know this because, as Jesus was coming up out of the water, the Spirit descended upon him in the likeness of a dove, even as the Father proclaimed, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
After this, Jesus performed his first miracle. Guess what? It involved water—and wine.
Later, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. He tells her that he is the living water. That’s why, when Jesus attended a feast some time after that, he stood up “on the last and greatest day”, and “said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit…”
Then, on Thursday of the week Jesus was to die, Jesus took a towel and a bowl of water and he washed the disciple’s feet. So it is with a sense of irony that, less than twenty four hours later, Pilate, the Roman governor, took a bowl and washed his hands, sending Jesus to his death, which would become our life. Later, as Jesus hung from the cross, he cried out in a loud voice and died. The last thing they did to him before taking him down was stick him with a spear. With that (is it any surprise?) two things issued from his side: blood and water. Thus, the ministry of Jesus begins and ends with water.
But “wait a minute” you might say, “Jesus’ death is not the end of the story. Jesus rose again.” And that’s true. That’s why I find it interesting that we remember Jesus’ death and his resurrection with water: the waters of baptism. See, baptism is a Christian’s way of participating in the full ministry of Jesus.
First, it starts with the Spirit’s work. The Spirit of God is hovering over the surface of the water, waiting to alight upon you, as in the baptism of Christ.
But, before you come out of the water, you need to go into the water. In doing so, the Christian participates in the death of Jesus. Just as Jesus descended to the dead, so you, in going down under the surface of the water, descend to the dead. In going under the water, you are putting to death the thing that caused Jesus to die: your sin. In other words, you are saying “no” to sin. This is why, before you enter the water, you will renounce Satan and all his works, to declare your intention to say “no” to the devil and his ways.
But that is not the whole story, I’m happy to say. In coming up out of the water, you participate in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You rise to a new life. Thus, even as you say “no” to sin, you say “yes” to Jesus.
And as you come up out of the water, the Spirit is there, but so is the Father. And He is saying the same words He said to His Son, “I love you, Monaca. I am pleased with you, my child.” So, with those words of love, and with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit resting upon you, you begin a new life.
And that's a very good thing, because, Monaca, you’ve had quite a life. You’ve had more than your share of pain and suffering. You’ve been through hell. I don’t need to go into the details of this. You know the details. You’ve been through hell.
Even after you gave your life and your heart to Jesus, you went through the fire. And, like Jesus, you probably felt like you were being unjustly crucified: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You didn’t deserve this torture. Like Jesus you thought and felt the words of the psalmist, a man who also was at the end of himself: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” Like Jesus, you at times felt alone, abandoned, forsaken, accused and attacked. “Many bulls surround me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water…They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing…I am poured out like water…”
Just like Jesus. But, the good news is: just like Jesus, you’ve seen that God, the Father, does not “abandon you to the grave. He will not let his Holy One see decay.” God is in the business of resurrection. God is in the business of liberation.
You’ve seen God doing miracles, proving without any doubt: “Wow! God is there! Jesus is there!” You’ve seen this not only in your own life, but also in the lives of those you love. When your Dad became a Christian you’ve seen there is nothing that God cannot do. And you told yourself, “Never, never doubt God’s power.”
In the midst of sleepless nights, you’ve been reminded: “Jesus is there.” And God has shown Himself to be a tower of refuge in a world of nightmares.
Monaca, this day, as you go down into the water, lay your head to rest on Jesus’ chest. Be still and know that He is God. Rest in Him and know that He is there. He is able. There is nothing too difficult for Him.
Just look at creation. Just look at the Red Sea. Just look at Jesus. There is nothing too difficult for God. He brings life from nothingness. He sets the captives free. He conquers death.
And it all begins and ends with water. This is why, in the Bible’s book of Revelation, a book about the end of time, we are left with this plea: “Come!” The Spirit says, “Come!” “Whoever is thirsty, let her come; and whoever wishes, let her take the free gift of the water of life.”