Wade in the Water

It was Easter Sunday at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, NY. The tiny urban neighborhood church was crowded with saints singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” at the top of their lungs, their song rising to the roof as incense. New LCMS Lutheran converts Janine Bolling and Gerard Bolling, brother and sister by blood, with their entire Brooklyn family watching, were to become brother and sister in Christ, with the entire family of God both gazing down from heaven and gazing forward from the hot wooden pews in the not-yet-air-conditioned sanctuary.

More than a Pastor: A Mentor

Pastor Christoph Schulze stands from his tall wooden throne (at least, it looks like that to 10- and 12-year-old kids from Brooklyn), and he allows his body to be a vehicle for the work of Christ. His hands are the same hands that shook mine as he opened up the Scripture to me, not on the road to Emmaus but on the road to the local community center where he taught me to play basketball (he did his best, but I was a lost cause). He had brought along his then-young son and twin daughters on the walk, ushering them forward with his hands.

I see those same hands make a strange sign before he pronounces forgiveness to God’s people on Sunday morning. Up-down, side-to-side. I can imagine those same hands coming down when he muffed my lousy shot on the basketball court but then shrieked, “It’s okay, making the shot isn’t the point—working as a team is.” Those same hands scoop into a bowl of water, ready to cover my freshly cut hair and my sister’s freshly done wash-’n’-set hairstyle. This water, by the hands of this faithful pastor, by the hand of God—will free me.

A Song on the Road to Freedom

As I relive his hands diving into the water, with the Easter hymns freshly sung in the sanctuary, another song fills my head—

Wade in the water

Wade in the water, children

Wade in the water

God’s gonna trouble the water

It is a song created by the great Harriet Tubman, slavery abolitionist, who led hundreds—if not thousands—of slaves to safety through the Underground Railroad. Her gentle hands guide them and lead them, teaching them the Scripture to strengthen them, not on the road to Emmaus, but on the road to freedom. And as she ushers them forward, she sings this gospel style call-and-response spiritual to warn the slaves that dogs from the slave masters have caught their scent, and the dogs are coming to kill them.

The chorus bellows in the moonlight as these slaves jump into the water to hide their scent from the masters and the dogs that seek to destroy them. They bob their heads up to breathe in and then push their heads down again as they survive on mere moments of oxygen, constantly washing off the old scent that the dogs pick up and simply amalgamating into the new scent of the water. The purity of the water cleanses them, making them new. After bobbing, sometimes for hours, in strange water—they emerge free; the dogs are not able to catch the old scent of who they have been, as they have nearly become one with the water they wade in. A promise of freedom is made to them because of the water’s cleansing power.

Freedom through Baptism

As the waters of Holy Baptism are placed on my head, I remember the same promise of freedom—freedom in Christ that comes when His name is put on me—Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This water marks me with a promise that makes me new. I can wade in this water whenever I feel as if the slave master of sin is running after me, catching my scent, even ensnaring me once again. God has caused me to remember that I can wade in the water—His waters of Baptism. I can marinate in the promises of God through the waters of Baptism. I can daily drown the old Adam and watch the new Adam arise, forgiven, and with the same promise of freedom. My freedom rider is Christ, and he draws me to Himself.

As the water flows on my head and on my sister’s head—we emerge new. We emerge free. My little snips of freshly cut hair floating in the baptismal bowl and my sister’s hair fixtures are marks of our old scent. We are made new in Baptism. We are made clean in Baptism. We can wade in those promises.

God’s gonna trouble the water.

To understand what Baptism is and the blessings that Christians receive from it, consider reading Lutheranism 101: Holy Baptism.

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Picture of Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling
Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling is an LCMS pastor and Lutheran university educator. Dr. Bolling holds a BA in theatre from Concordia University Chicago, an MDiv from Concordia Seminary, and a doctor of education (EdD) degree from Concordia University Wisconsin in leadership, innovation, and continuous improvement. His dissertation was focused on human resource development in under-resourced urban ministry structures of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (How LCMS Pastors Are Developed through Mentorship). Dr. Bolling currently serves in a dual call as pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and as assistant professor of leadership and theology in the online modality and coordinator of multicultural engagement at Concordia University Texas. His passion for urban ministry, education, leadership, nonprofit management, mentorship, diversity/equity/inclusion, and distance learning are all married in this dual call as he serves the saints of Bethlehem and the students of Concordia University Texas simultaneously. Dr. Bolling has also spoken at numerous conferences, on podcasts, and at churches, schools, and events within our church body, reflecting the love of Christ and prodding deeper conversations about deaf, urban, and cross-cultural inclusive ministry. He has taught in half the schools of the Concordia University System, thoroughly realizing the depth of knowledge our Concordia schools have to offer to the world they engage. Dr. Bolling has been married to his beautiful and talented wife, Lorenda, for six years. Lorenda serves as a preschool teacher at Word of Life Lutheran School. Together, they have a four-year-old son named Lincoln and a two-year-old daughter named Monroe. Both children were born in different years but on the exact date—October 5! They currently reside on the south side of St. Louis, Missouri.

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