Posted: 22 Feb 2012 05:52 AM PST
"And 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" (1 Peter 3:21).
It is only the second day of Lent and most commentaries will tell you that today's passage is one of the most difficult and most complicated in the New Testament, one that has been subject to years of scholarly pondering and scores of differing interpretations.
Before plunging in, I want to pause right here, from a Lenten perspective. When things get complicated or hard to fathom, what do we do? Skip over it? Make up an answer? Look the other way? Lent, as we know, is about entering into a sacred time of examination, repentance, and honesty--not exactly the stuff of looking away from the hard and the real. We should be looking at what is truly there--in our lives, in our hopes, in our failures.
Peter's first epistle addresses the hard and the real, in the form of suffering, head on. Suffering is mentioned repeatedly in all five chapters. As this passage makes makes clear, hope travels alongside suffering.
What kind of hope, specifically, does this passage want us to ponder at the beginning of Lent? The hope that is birthed from the resurrection of Jesus, his power over the demonic--the spirits that enslave us--and a particular view of baptism.
After citing the paradox of water in the story of Noah's Ark, where water destroyed many and at the same time carried those on the ark to safety, Peter has a potent reminder for us regarding the water of our own baptisms: This vital sacrament is not "a removal of dirt from the body" but "an appeal to God for a good conscience."
This means that our baptism is an active kind of ongoing, living baptism. It's not something that is done to you, but something you have to work for diligently and faithfully. Baptism becomes your daily attempt to avoid sin. The Greek word for sin used in the Bible literally means "to miss the mark." Living into our baptism is done not on our own, of course, but with and through God.
God comes to us through the work of Christ. God expects us to bear witness to the saving grace of Jesus just as Noah, very much in the minority at the time, bore witness to God's impending judgment on the world.
This passage calls us to a "good conscience." Where are you called to stand up for what Jesus stood for in terms of social justice, even though you may be in the minority? What does the world need and even cry out for that won't get done if you do not do it? Like Christ, we are called to bear witness in a hostile world.
Lent is off and running. It invites us forward into a faith that calls on God, into a baptism that is alive and kicking and ever in need of tending.
Nina Frost, member of Marble Collegiate