One of the first things I learned in Biology when I was in second or third grade was that the body was mostly water. I remember the teacher filing a clear glass with water and saying, “do you believe that over half of your body is this?” We giggled at the idea, and thought she was being silly. But then she did her lesson and we began to accept the fact, though we were too young to do much experimentation. Though we learned that researchers had calculated that over half of the human body is water; in some (specifically infants) it could be in excess of 75% with an average for all humans hovering around 55%-60%.
All of this is to come back to the main point of the lesson my teacher was making that water is essential to life. In fact, most people can live roughly 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water. Though, not understood in the way we understand it today, people in biblical times understood the central importance of water for life.
The passage that we have this Sunday invokes the water imagery in a couple distinct ways. While neither has to do with the body in particular, both images have to do with life.
The first invocation of the water imagery is when Peter brings forward a teaching about Noah. Peter uses water here to symbolize life, but in a strangely backhanded way, in that the lives that are saved by the waters are the same waters that kill many others.
This is important because the second image of water that Peter uses is the water of baptism, which in the same way is both a symbol of salvation and a symbol of death. The aspect of baptism being a symbol of death is often lost in the liturgy and teachings of baptism. But when one is baptized, they are letting the waters that give life also kill that which is bad.
By the time I was in High School, I was taking AP bio and starting to do the fun experimentation. We saw how the intake of water into the body’s system allowed the cells to excrete the toxins that had built up from other biological systems. That was a cool experiment; though as I watched through my microscope the cells do their work I was amazed at how it all worked. Too little water and the cell would die, too much and the cell would die, just enough and things moved as they were meant.
The thing about water is that the water as life is a gift from God. When we are baptized, it is not just about washing away the bad, but being cleansed and made more whole. There is a saying in the reformed tradition that the sacraments are merely an outward expression of inward grace.
Here the imagery holds in that our Body that is mostly water accepts more water that continually cleanses it, just as we are continually cleansed through our baptism and acceptance of the Lord’s Supper.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen