18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, 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.
21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
In this season of returning, here the writer of this general letter known as First Peter dispenses with any talk of being “saved” as it relates to salvation. Instead, the promise lies in our re-creation, our renewal, our resurrection (the “little r” one), our being made into a new Creation. It is a reminder that in our baptism, in that moment when the waters covered our body, or covered our head, or when drops of the stuff clinging to another’s hand somehow, some way, landed on our head and brushed our forehead and became the sign of a cross, in THAT moment, we were made new. It wasn’t just washing away of sin and it certainly wasn’t some sort of something that made us sin no more (although, let me tell you, that would have made this life thing a little easier!) In that moment as the waters touched us, we were made new, suddenly swept into a new way of being, and our life in Christ began.
Now baptism is not some sort of magic potion that makes everything perfect. After all, we are not robotic churchy beings. We are human–messed up, sometimes sinful, sometimes without hope, sometimes without direction, sometimes overwhelmed, but always, always, Beloved children of God. For those to whom this was written, the words were a reminder that whatever chaos and peril life now holds, it is not permanent, that beyond what we know, beyond what we can imagine, the God of all Creation is working on us even now, creating molecule after molecule, so that when the flood waters of life finally subside, we will remember who and whose we are, a Beloved Child of God with whom God is well pleased. And no matter what we do, no matter how much we mess up this life that we’ve been given, no matter how much the world’s chaos swirls around us beyond our control, the promise is true. God is always there beckoning us to return to the waters, to return to where we began and begin again.
This season of Lent is not a season that merely calls us to clean up the mire and muck of our lives. It is not a season to finally become good and obedient boys and girls. It is not a season that promises to get your life together (or organize yourself or lose weight or some other thing you think you need to do disguised as a Lenten discipline). Lent is a season that calls us to return–to who we are called to be, to what gives us life, to God. It is a season to return to the waters of your baptism, not just for 40 days, but forever.
Do you remember the old version of the Apostles’ Creed, where we proclaim that Jesus descended into hell? Well, this is the passage from which that notion may have started. It claims that Jesus proclaimed to those imprisoned spirits; in other words, Jesus entered hell and blew the gates off. See, you can always begin again. You can always return to the waters. You just have to be willing to try out some newness.
One cannot step twice in the same river, for fresh waters are forever flowing around us. (Hereclitus of Ephesus, 535-475 BCE)
FOR TODAY: Remember your baptism. Now begin again.
Grace and Peace,