At the crucifixion, the story of God’s judgment on a sinful earth is rewritten in a dramatic way.
Church tradition identifies the wooden cross with the ark that saved Noah, his family, and a remnant of creation from the Genesis flood (as told in Genesis 7; for an example of Church tradition see St. Augustine here). If the ark is recapitulated, as it were, in the cross, then we naturally wonder where is the other major physical element of the story, the water?
That, of course, enters the story in the piercing of Christ’s side, when blood and water gush forth.
The relationship between the wood and the water are redefined at Golgotha.
In the flood, the waters swallowed up the whole earth, with the ark, as giant as it was, just a speck by comparison. Yet, in the crucifixion, the wood—the symbol of salvation—now dominates the scene.
In Genesis, the waters are a source of death. They threaten the ark, which must be protected from them. But, in the Gospel of John, the water that pours out of Christ’s side is life-giving, symbolizing the waters of baptism. The relationship between the wood and the water is a positive one. One leads to the other.
Through the crucifixion, the symbolism of water is transformed from judgment to mercy.
Or, to put it another way, in the person of Christ, God’s judgment becomes mercy for us. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, in the Summa Theologica, “In the justification of the ungodly, justice is seen, when God remits sins on account of love, though He Himself has mercifully infused that love.
Based on the information we are given, the ark was closed in on itself. There was one opening for the light (Genesis 6:16). The only other opening was the door on the side, which, in the City of God, Augustine connects to Christ’s side: “And its having a door made in the side of it certainly signified the wound which was made when the side of the Crucified was pierced with the spear.”
Except there is one key difference: in Genesis, God ‘shuts’ the door after Noah, his family, and the creatures have entered (Genesis 7:16). On the cross, God finally ‘opens’ the side.
God has opened the world to us. Thanks to the cross, we are equipped with everything we need to conquer the world. We no longer need fear the storms of this world. “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
God has opened paradise to us. Noah’s ark was a kind of floating Eden. Compared to the death and destruction that held sway outside its walls, it was an oasis teaming with life.
God has opened Himself to us. Of course, what God has ultimately done is invite us to share in His being. The Old Testament was a world of walls and boundaries. Adam and Eve were shut out of the Garden. The Red Sea separated the Israelites from the Egyptians. And then they themselves off in a Promised Land. A strict set of rules established boundaries around the tabernacle and later the temple in ancient Israel.
A dominant motif of the New Testament, on the other hand, is the crossing of boundaries. God crosses the boundaries separating heaven and earth. He crosses the chasm of sin dividing man from God. And, finally, God crosses the barrier separating life from death.
The ultimate significance of the connection between the flood and the crucifixion is hope. If God can take the elements of the flood story and rework them into instruments of salvation offered to all, then there is truly hope. God’s redemption is so great that He not only redeems us from the flood but He also ‘redeems’ the floodwaters, turning them into the very instrument of our redemption.