When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst,Isaiah 41:17-20
I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together,
so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
However, water is perhaps so abundant in our modern world in wealthy, developed nations, that the power of this symbol might be a bit lost. When we are never far from clean drinking water, hot, fresh water to bathe in at the lift of a tap, the preciousness and fragility of life becomes easy to take for granted. A symbol that reminds us that we are totally dependent on the God of creation for our very lives becomes a convenience we might only consider when paying our water bill.
And yet, there are so many people on the planet that lack secure access to clean water. Globally speaking, potable water is scarce, and as God’s stewards of creation we are called to care for it. As Isaiah writes in the above passage, access to water is always a justice issue. There have been too many instances of water shortages in nations around the world. If we do not learn to better manage this resource, global water shortages will increase. Humanitarian debates about access to water – necessary for life – fail against the privatization of access to water. What does it mean when megacorporations control access to and profit from God’s creation that is necessary to sustain life?
I raise these concern not to despair, but to remember that water points us back to our complete dependence on God. Life is a gift – not to be taken for granted but to be shared with others. In the ancient world, a sacramental rite using water was an effective symbol because water was not something to take for granted. Ancient worship instructions provide contingency instructions to baptize with sand if water was unable to be found. Imagine planning a baptism and not being able to access water!
Baptism is central to our identity as Christians, and the foundation of our community. Might we remember this profound gift of life as we go about our day? Each time we enjoy a drink of water or wash our hands is a reminder of this precious gift of life for God. It’s a reminder of how blessed we truly are, despite the challenges all around us. We truly have been given abundant life. Let us remember that it is all God’s gift to us.