Thanksgiving Under the Water
April 18, 2013
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage
in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus
received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy
Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death
and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are
buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his
resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his
fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in
the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
(from The Thanksgiving over the Water in the rite of Holy Baptism
in the Book of Common Prayer)
Several decades ago, I learned to scuba dive. It is serious business to venture into deep water, when at birth I was not equipped with gills. My instructor, who was ex-military, approached the training as if we were preparing to be Navy Seals. After several months of pool training, I faced the final test: the check-out dive, an open water dive in an old quarry.
The water was cold, and so murky that it looked black. I have never been so physically scared in my life. I was required to free-dive thirty feet, following a rope attached to a buoy, and grab a white plastic doughnut—a mini-life preserver—from the diver sitting on the quarry bottom. I got into the water and swam to the buoy. All I had was a mask, snorkel, fins, and a weight belt. I had no oxygen tank.
The diver at the bottom told me later that he never saw me until I grabbed the plastic doughnut from him. The instructor, at the surface when I came up out of the water clutching the life preserver, said he had never seen anyone with such big eyes. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it; and it changed my life. When I came out of the water I was suddenly free of the fears and anxieties that had always bogged me down.
If they don’t know about our faith, anyone who watches an infant being baptized in my parish probably thinks the sacrament is a holy washing. There is nothing frightening about it (and I don’t suggest there should be). But the truth is that my scary dive into dark water is closer to the reality at the heart of the sacrament; the inner meaning of the ritual is that we die and are born again into a new life in Jesus Christ. We are a people of Resurrection, and eternal life begins at baptism; it is not something that only happens after death. When we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, we are transformed. When I came up out of that dark cold water, I broke through a barrier of fear and came up into a new freedom. And if I am ever in danger of forgetting that my life has been transformed, I hold on to Jesus, the Everlasting Life preserver.
When have you experienced God’s presence in the midst of your fear? How do you remember, after the scary time is over, that God is still with you? Offer a prayer of thanksgiving that you have passed through a difficult time. If you are in a scary time now, pray that you will feel God present with you.