In 1523, Martin Luther wrote his Little Book of Baptism. In it, he added something he called “the flood prayer” to the baptism liturgy that was being used by the Roman Catholic Church. Today a variation of his flood prayer is included in the baptism liturgy found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW). The prayer goes like this: 

We give you thanks, O God, for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters and by your Word you created the world, calling forth life in which you took delight. Through the waters of the flood you delivered Noah and his family, and through the sea you led your people Israel from slavery into freedom. At the river your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit. By the baptism of Jesus’ death and resurrection you set us free from the power of sin and death and raise us up to live in you. 

Pour out your Holy Spirit, the power of your living Word, that those who are washed in the waters of baptism may be given new life. To you be given honor and praise through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen (ELW, page 230). 

In this prayer, we give thanks for all the ways God has used water and for God’s promise to bring about new life. The prayer also connects the newly baptized person to the larger biblical narrative, emphasizing that just as God brought about new life back then, so God continues to bring about new life here and now. 

The narrative described in this prayer provides a wonderful model for reflection during Lent, centered around the idea that water, with the word, creates new life.  


The narrative described in this prayer provides a wonderful model for reflection during Lent, centered around the idea that water, with the word, creates new life.


Week 1: Creation 

Prayer passage: “For in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters and by your Word you created the world, calling for life in which you took delight.” 
Scripture reading: Genesis 1:1-20. 
Hymn: “Let All Things Now Living” (ELW, 881). 
Song: “God of Wonders” by Third Day.

From the very beginning, water has played  a vital part in the creation of life. Even before God created anything else, there was water. Genesis 1:1-2 reads: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  

Water continued to play an important role throughout creation. God made the sky on day two and then said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters” (1:6). Then, when God made the earth and seas on day three, God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear” (1:9).

On day five, when God made birds and fish, God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures …” (1:20). In these first acts of creation, God used water with the power of the word to bring about new life. 

Today there are plenty of examples of the important connections between life and water. When scientists search for life on other planets, the first sign they look for is water. Sixty percent of the adult human body is made of water, and 71 percent of the earth is covered in it. Before babies are born, they grow in watery amniotic fluid. Plants need water to grow. We typically can’t survive more than three days without it. Water is essential to life. 

The thing that makes baptismal water different, though, is that God’s word is connected to it. As Luther said in his Small Catechism: “How can water do such great things? Clearly the water does not do it, but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a ‘bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit’ as St. Paul says to Titus in chapter 3 ….” 

We use water for many things in our lives—but God takes this common water, combines it with God’s word, and creates new life. God did so at the start of creation and continues to do so today.

 

Read part 2 in this series.

Kurt Lammi
Kurt Lammi is the pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church on Dog Leg Road in Dayton, Ohio, and is a frequent contributor to Living Lutheran. His writing has also appeared in Sundays and Seasons, Christ in Our Home and the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. He lives in Vandalia, Ohio, with his wife, daughter, cat and fish.

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