Image: Ice Filled Bay, Paulatuk
Acts 4.23-31 | Ps 2 | Jn 3.1-8
In the Canadian Arctic water is everywhere and communities are built either along ocean coastlines, river banks or lake shores. Because of its close proximity water serves the people as both a source of life and death. It provides food and drink as well as corridors for transportation. But also, unfortunately, it is the setting for many tragic accidents and untimely loss of life, often the bodies of loved ones never being found but lost to the depths forever.
Inuit legends about water can have a rather hard edge with one creation myth involving a young woman being drowned by her father before taking up residence at the bottom of the sea where she spends her time looking after the fish and sea mammals. Perhaps, for these reasons, indigenous people have an intense respect with regard to water often seeing it not just from a utilitarian perspective or as a resource to be exploited but as something with its own spiritual life force which must be both honored and feared.
In the Gospel today water is mentioned only briefly but its implications are far reaching. Jesus says to Nicodemus,
“Unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”
Nicodemus is naturally puzzled by these cryptic words. He has come secretly to Jesus, in the dark of night, to find out more from this itinerant preacher who has stirred up so much controversy. But tonight Jesus seems to be speaking in riddles. Nicodemus is seeking practical wisdom. “How can a grown man be born?” He has seen Jesus heal and perform miracles, useful things. He has little imagination or patience for the more mysterious aspects of God’s life that Jesus wants to share with him.
But there is so much more to God then what he can “do” for us. There is life in God in which we are invited to immerse ourselves. The use of water as the primary matter of baptism is about more than just its usefulness to cleanse and purify, it is because of the power of water to bring about both life and death. Baptism involves a dying to ourselves and to all that stands between us and God. Only then can we experience true rebirth in God’s Spirit.
The Inuit myth of Sedna, the woman whose father allows her to drown in the ocean, is a tragic tale of loss, but it is not loss in vain. From Sedna’s death comes a rising of new life, the fish and all that the sea contains. There may be found some parallels here to our own Christian story of the Pascal mystery where we recall the sacrifice of God’s son and his resurrection. There is a difference in the stories however in that Sedna is a goddess who must be placated and is often vengeful, taking pleasure in hiding the fruit of the sea and leaving hunters without a source of food.
The Christian story, on the other hand, celebrates a gracious God who loves us and wants us to have abundant life. Our entry into this life that God offers is through the waters of baptism.