Monsignor Kevin McGinnell explores the key Biblical symbols between baptism and salvation through Noah in the Old Testament and Christ in the New Testament. He helps us to understand these symbols in our faith and their relevance today in our care for creation and the climate change crisis.
Here are the key Biblical symbols which help us to understand the relationship between baptism and salvation through Noah in the Old Testament and Christ in the New Testament.
While the waters of the Flood in the book of Genesis were used by God to punish the earth because of its sinfulness they also become the way in which Noah’s faithfulness enables the world to be purified.
In the waters of Baptism Christians believe they are born to a new life in Christ which means being strengthened to put away all that is sinful. [cf. Romans 6:1ff]
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. [Romans 6:1-4]
The idea of forty days links to the forty years that the Israelites spent in the desert as God led them on their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus spends forty days and nights in the desert, tempted by the devil, before he begins his ministry. After his resurrection Jesus spends forty days with his disciples before the Ascension.
The flood lasted forty days on earth [Genesis 7:17]
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and released a raven, which flew back and forth as it waited for the waters to dry up on earth. He then released a dove, to see whether the waters were receding from the surface of the earth. But the dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to him in the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth; putting out his hand he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him. After waiting seven more days, he again released the dove from the ark. In the evening, the dove came back to him and there in its beak was a freshly-picked olive leaf! So Noah realised that the waters were receding from the earth. After waiting seven more days, he released the dove, and now it returned to him no more. [Genesis 8:6-12]
ARK and SALVATION
The ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat. God often meets his people at particular moments on mountains in the Bible. So he gives the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20. Jesus is transfigured on Mount Tabor in Matthew 17: 1-9 and ascends from the Mount of Olives in Luke 22:39.
The ark itself is seen as an image for the Church, the community God saves, which also has a mission to save the world. In Genesis chapter 7, Noah and his family, and all the animals, entered the ark through a door on its side. This can be seen as similar to the way we enter the Church through the side of Christ, whose body was pierced on the cross, releasing blood and water. Both of which are used in the Eucharist to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Now it was long ago, when Noah was still building the ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’, and when God was still waiting patiently, that these spirits refused to believe. That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing off of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 3:20-21]
Noah sends out first the raven to see if the land is clear, with no return. The dove comes back with the olive branch which is a sign that is safe to leave the ark. So the dove and the olive tree become a sign of peace. Olives are crushed to make olive oil which is used in anointing in many traditions at Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and the Coronation. The name of Christ means the Anointed One, and when Christians are anointed they are called to live out his call.
The Spirit whom we see in the image of a dove at the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, drives Jesus out into the desert for forty days to be tempted. After that he is able to begin his mission, proclaiming the new covenant of the kingdom.
And at once, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’ And at once the Spirit drove him into the desert and he remained there for forty days. [Mark 1:10-13a]
Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth [Genesis 9:12,13]
God makes solemn agreements with his people and seals them with signs. With Noah it is the rainbow, with Abraham that his descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky, with Moses the Ten Commandments, and then with Jesus it is his blood of the new covenant, he promises at the Last Supper.
Even as the flood destroys so much, it also marks a new beginning for a world order. God establishes his Covenant with Noah and his descendants, “with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle, and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth.” [Genesis 9:10]
So Noah, and thus we, are entrusted with the care for all of creation. This responsibility of ours within the world is summarised very well by Pope Francis in his book – Let us Dream: the Path to a Better Future, published by Simon & Schuster UK (2020).
Here is an extract below from pages 13-15, inviting us to respond to the current crisis:
“We are born, beloved creatures of our Creator, into a world that has lived long before us. We belong to God and to one another, and we are part of creation. And from this under-standing must flow our love for each other — a love not earned or bought because all we are and have is unearned gift.
How are we persuaded otherwise? How did we become blind to the preciousness of creation and the fragility of humanity? How did we forget the gifts of God and of each other? How to explain that we live in a world where nature is suffocated, where viruses spread like wildfire and bring down our societies, where heartbreaking poverty coexists with inconceivable wealth, where entire peoples, like the Rohingya, are consigned to the dustheap?
I believe that what has persuaded us is the myth of self-sufficiency — that the earth exists to be plundered; that others exist to meet our needs; that what we have earned or what we lack is what we deserve; that my reward is riches, even if that means that the fate of others will be poverty. It is moments like these, when we feel a radical powerlessness that we cannot escape on our own, that we come to our senses and see the selfishness of the culture in which we are immersed, that denies the best of who we are. And if, at such moments, we repent, and look back to our Creator and to each other, we might remember the truth that God put in our hearts: that we belong to Him and to each other.
Perhaps because we have recovered, in lockdown, a little of that fraternity our hearts had painfully missed, many of us have begun to feel an impatient hope that maybe the world could be organised differently, to reflect that truth. We have neglected and mistreated our ties with our Creator, with creation, and with our fellow creatures. But the good news is that an ark awaits us to carry us to a new tomorrow. COVID-19 is our Noah moment, as long as we can find our way to the ark of the ties that unite us: of love, and of a common belonging.
The Noah story in Genesis is not just about how God offered a path out of destruction, but about all that followed. The regeneration of human society meant a return to respecting limits, curbing the reckless pursuit of wealth and power, looking out for the poor and those living on the edges. The introduction of the Sabbath and the Jubilee — moments of recovery and reparation, forgiving debts and restoring relationships — were key to that regeneration, giving time for the earth to bounce back, for the poor to find fresh hope, for people to find their souls again. That is the grace available to us now, the light in the midst of our tribulation. Let us not throw it away.”
Mgr Kevin McGinnell is a priest of the Northampton diocese and parish priest of Holy Ghost, Luton. He has responsibility for the Diocesan Education Service and the Liturgy Commission. He is Episcopal Vicar for Education and Formation and is Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference Spirituality Committee.