As we celebrate the baptism of our Lord on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, it is a reminder to me of how just how vital water is to our survival. I saw this first hand in the city of Toledo last Summer. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s exegete this one and unpack it theologically.
A water fountain with caution tape across it, because there are toxins in the city’s water supply. Sitting on the fountain are bottles of water that are safe to drink. The bottles were leftovers from a 6-year-old girl who was handing them out in the neighborhood surrounding the church the day before. And beside the fountain is an old baptismal font pulled out of storage while they work in the storage room where it was stored.
This was the imagery at Trinity Lutheran in Toledo after several days where more than 400,000 people had no potable water in the heat of Summer.
So let’s start with this font which is very special to me. Why is it special to me? Because I was the last infant to be baptized in it before the new sanctuary was completed with a new font. It would sit in storage for nearly 25 years until my infant son would be baptized in it. And of course the font is special because it holds within in it the water that both kills and makes alive, where I personally died and was made alive in Christ. And here beside the font is both water filled with danger and water filled with mercy.
Yes, there are toxins in city, it’s in the water. All sorts of toxins: Wall Street greed, Hollywood smut, Gosnell’s house of horrors, gay pride, gangster violence, politician corruption, outcast’s despair, extreme poverty’s hopelessness, family and community divisions … there are toxins that pollute and kill. Funny thing about toxic water, it doesn’t matter who drinks it, the results are the same. We all drink from the wells of the world, the devil, and our sinful nature and it is a poison that causes death.
In Exodus 15, God’s people come to a city named after the bitterness of its water. A fitting place considering how the people grumbled against God, their own lips dripping in bitternerss. And their stomachs were grumbling just as loudly as their mouths. And yet their intercessor Moses tosses a log into the water, and it is made sweet. And so too God gives bread, only out of His divine mercy and grace. Yes, the water may be bitter and toxic, but our intecessor has placed the wood of the cross into the water of the city as well.
And now it holds the sweet forgiveness that we need to live. And so too, in the wilderness, God gives to us the bread from heaven that fills us up, just as we drink from the wells of salvation. So the city’s water supply may be tainted with toxins, but the church has the water that when we drink it, we will never thirst again. The church has the water that is sweet and life giving, because Christ placed Himself into that water through His baptism. And when we drink deeply from that well, we too will give that water to others. The water that quenches the thirst of the body and the water that quenches the thirst of the soul. This is why Trinity Toledo and other area Lutheran churches bought bottles of water to those who had no immediate access, just as Jesus speaks of giving a cup of water in mercy for the care of the body of our neighbor.
There may be toxins in the water, but the city church has the fountain that overflows with mercy and eternal life. If not for Christ stepping into the Jordan, we would have only plain water. But with the Word of God, it is the water that washes clean, it makes new, it rescues, it saves, it unites… it is the water that pours from a Savior’s side mingled with His blood… it is the water that gives eternal life!
“To Jordon Came the Christ, Our Lord”
All that the mortal eye beholds
Is water as we pour it.
Before the eye of faith unfolds
The pow’r of Jesus’ merit.
For here it sees the crimson flood
To all our ills bring healing;
The wonders of His precious blood
The love of God revealing
Assuring His own pardon.
[LSB 406/407 | Text: Martin Luther]