…”when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you”… 1 Peter 3:20-21 NRSV
When I lived in Mobile, Alabama, afternoon thunderstorms flooded the streets of the downtown area with several inches of water. It was no big deal. The people were used to it and lived with it. No damage occurred.
But one evening lighting, thunder, and torrential rain kept me from getting into my car and driving home from my church. I waited inside the building until I thought the rain and lightning had let up enough for me to run safely to my car.
All was well, I thought. I’ll just cut through a neighborhood and not drive home on major streets which were lighted. Bad decision. It was dark on that narrow, two-lane road I took as a shortcut to go home and I thought it really didn’t matter. What could go wrong?
But something indeed went wrong. I was startled and frightened when my car hit a two foot wall of water on the road home. The darkness of the night blended into the dark pavement of the street which made for dangerous driving. There were no street lights on that small neighborhood road so that my vision was limited. The water from a flooded creek rushed onto the road. Road and water merged into one black mass which jolted my car when I hit the flowing water.
Nonetheless, I kept my foot on the gas and made it safely through to the other side. From that day on, I had more respect for the power of water and thunderstorms. Water can severely damage and destroy.
The flood during the time of Noah covered the whole earth and swept humanity to a tragic death. But Noah, his family, and pairs of animals were saved in the ark even though the heavens broke open and poured rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights.
As a child I loved the story of Noah and the Ark because it included a big boat, all kinds of animals, a dove with an olive branch, and the colorful rainbow which was a promise that God would never again send a flood of this magnitude to the earth.
Saint Peter makes an interesting theological point about water and the flood during the days of Noah. He wrote that during the time of Noah when the ark was built, Noah and his family were saved through water. The water of the flood drowned sin and the corruption of the world so there could a new and fresh start with obedience to God through Noah and his family. And the ark kept afloat during the rain and flood and the eight in the ark were saved.
But then Saint Peter wrote that this water of the flood “prefigured baptism” which saves us. So there is “saving water” in Holy Baptism. In the Lutheran liturgy for baptism, a prayer from Martin Luther is included. It is sometimes called “Luther’s Flood Prayer.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, page 230)
In that prayer Luther mentioned the familiar stories in Scripture recalling water – at creation, at the flood in Noah’s time, the parting waters of the Red Sea which the Israelites hurried through for safety, the river water where Jesus was baptized by John. Finally, Luther reminds us that being baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven and raised up to new life.
So baptism with water and God’s word saves us from the power of sin and death. In Titus chapter three we read, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5)
God’s gifts through Christ in Holy Baptism are rebirth and renewal. We are born new each day as the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us and our faith is renewed. We then live with hope and strength to do God’s will. We live with confidence to follow in the way of our Lord. We live as witnesses for Christ free and forgiven to let our light of faith and love shine in this broken world.
Saint Peter wrote his letter to Christians suffering from the persecution in Rome under the reign of Nero or Domitian. The suffering could have been mild abuse and mockery by neighbors or more harsh persecution under these emperors. No matter what kind of suffering these first century Christians faced, Peter’s letter was one of hope as he focused on the gifts from God in Holy Baptism. (Working Preacher, Commentary on 1 Peter 3:13-22, Valerie Nicolet-Anderson)
Have we ever suffered today as Christians? In recent years some towns prohibited creche scenes in public parks. A Christmas tradition was suddenly erased. Some retailers prohibited their employees from wishing a “Merry Christmas” to customers. A joyful Christmas greeting was denounced.
Perhaps people have avoided you or turned away from you because they knew you were a church goer. But in the Middle East a dictator even drowned Christians. Suffering and persecution even happens today in subtle ways or in dramatic acts of evil.
But Saint Peter’s message about baptism brings comfort and hope in the midst of suffering for Christians. God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s comfort, God’s renewal through the Holy Spirit in baptism is much stronger than any earthly power.
Saint Peter also included another part for being saving through the water of Holy Baptism. There is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (3:21). What could this possibly mean? The word for “appeal” in Greek can also mean “to put a question to” or to “interrogate.” So we could say that part of baptism is “to put a question to God” about having a “good conscience.” (Hermeneutics.stackexchange.com)
In the ancient baptismal liturgy there are questions that the candidate answers or in the case of children, the parents and sponsors answer for the child. These question are about having a “good conscience” throughout one’s Christian life as a child of God.
When the first three questions are asked in the liturgy, the parents and sponsors of the child or the candidate himself turns to the west and answers each time with a renunciation.
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? I renounce them.
Then the baptismal group turns to the East where the sun rises and reminding them of Christ rising from the dead. The presiding minister then asks them three more questions and the baptismal group answers with the appropriate words from the Apostles’ Creed:
Do you believe in God the Father? I believe in God, the Father almighty…
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? I believe in Jesus Christ…
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? I believe in the Holy Spirit…
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2006, page 229)
So in the baptismal liturgy there is a renouncing of all that is evil and an affirmation of what Christians believe about the nature and work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This renunciation and affirmation leads to a godly life. It leads to the good and clear conscience Saint Peter connected to the saving water of baptism.
May we remember our baptism with water and the word in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and saving grace given for our salvation.
And when we do maybe we will even remember the story of Noah and the flood and how it points to the saving waters of our salvation through the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God.
(Image from Wikipedia Commons, US – PD, The Ark and the Cosmic Covenant, Anonymous Christian Author, c. 2-4 A.D, Catacombes, L’Arche de Noe et I’alliance Cosmique)