At the dawn of creation, "the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1.2)." The waters at creation not only manifest the symbolism of water in Christian theology, but also its creational importance. Water sustains life and its absence spells doom or death.
The story of Noah and the Ark gives a Christian account of the havoc excessive water may cause, even if there will be a rebuilding or newness that follows.
However, wherever water cohabits with the Spirit of God, as we see in Genesis 1.2, creational order unfolds from chaos. The Spirit of God hovering over water gives life and saving effects to water - "Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live" (Ezekiel 47.9).
Water and Spirit have come a long way. In recognition of the association of water with the Spirit, we now say, in the Second Eucharistic Prayer: "Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall."
Here again, the Spirit is associated with water, in the form of a dewfall, with the mission of creating something new - the transubstantiation (changing) of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
St. Paul already anticipated this link between water and Spirit when he said: "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.13)." What a theological evolution!
St. Paul anticipated the theological link between water and spirit.
The instructions of God at creation (Genesis 1.1-2.4) brought creation into being, and every creature was given its limits, including water: "I (God) placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it" (Jeremiah 5.22).
The human person pushed his boundary by "sin of origin," only to discover his frailty. When humans needed regeneration or salvation from their sins, water was readily available: "You (God) set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind. . . . When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth" (Psalm 104.3, 30).
Humans can either lose their identity through sin, or have their identity denied them by servitude, like the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt.
The restoration of a lost identity comes via redemption. God redeems by re-creating the primeva l state of creation, not necessarily through destruction, but by manifesting his power as creator.
With the Israelites, he chose water as the medium of his re-creation.
The waters of re-creation originated with the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt, a fact which coincided with their new identity as a people.
St. Paul theologized on the crossing of the sea in these words: "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 101-3).
The birth of a new people, Israel, by the passing through the sea, keeps giving new birth and identity to all who approach the baptismal font, especially on Easter night.
The column of light which announces God's presence among the Israelites, symbolized by the paschal candle, and the waters of the sea, represented by the water of Baptism, offer Christians the eternal memorial of God's acts of creation and re-creation.
Throughout human history, God never ceases to act. Every Easter season actualizes God's presence and intervention on behalf of his people, in all circumstances of their lives.
The baptismal font symbolizes those waters of re-creation. Baptism confers Christian identity to all who receive it, just as the Israelites received their identity before God.
Also, since the Israelites received a collective identity as a nation of people, at Baptism, every Christian is incorporated, as an adopted child of God, into the Body of Christ, as a member of the Church.
At Easter, we celebrate our individual and collective Christian birthday, our identity and our re-creation or redemption in Christ: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.27-28).
Spiritan Father Ayodele Ayeni is a sessional lecturer at Newman Theological College and pastor of Mary Help of Christians (Chinese) Parish in Edmonton.