Text and tune: anonymous.
Chorus Wade in the water Wade in the water, children, Wade in the water God's a-going to trouble the water 1. See that host all dressed in white God's a-going to trouble the water The leader looks like the Israelite God's a-going to trouble the water 2. See that band all dressed in red God's a-going to trouble the water Looks like the band that Moses led God's a-going to trouble the water 3. Look over yonder, what do you see? God's a-going to trouble the water The Holy Ghost a-coming on me God's a-going to trouble the water 4. If you don't believe I've been redeemed God's a-going to trouble the water Just follow me down to the Jordan's stream God's a-going to trouble the water
Jesus’ baptism in vividly portrayed in all four gospels. It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In this event we see Jesus fulfilling all righteousness; we hear his Father commending him to the people there as his beloved Son; see the Dove descending—so the Trinity is fully there submitting to John’s baptism, one for the forgiveness of sins. It is a strange moment, if one thinks about it. Why would Jesus, a non sinner, need this baptism? A question that theologians have spilled a great deal of ink to ponder. Luther says it was to experience all human life on earth.
The spiritual "Wade in the Water" is rich with interpretations as well. Harriet Tubman, who thought of herself as the Moses of the Underground railroad, would sing this whenever she felt the fugitive slaves she was leading to freedom in the north were in danger. While the references are all biblical, they can also communicate the truth of the flight of slaves to the north. To wade in the water was to go into the river so that the dogs could lose the scent and they could escape.
The slaves, like Harriet Tubman, knew Scripture well. The notion of the Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt became their story. So passing through the waters of the Red Sea was an emblem of their passing through he waters on their way out of slavery.
The hosts in white, the band in red, the troubling of the waters as we have it in John 5 where the angel troubles the water before people can be healed, the Holy Spirit coming upon one; standing on the edge of the Jordan, all biblical images which teach us what a difference these waters make in our lives. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and in dying with him we are raised up new, changed. And as we stand at the Jordan, we know we are looking beyond it into the heavenly city where the crystal stream of water flows. As the Welsh hymn has it, the verge of Jordan where we see into the new world Christ has come to bring us in the flesh.
And in his flesh, he will ultimately bring us into the courts of heaven where we can live in our new resurrected flesh. It will be a world of dimensions we cannot imagine now. All we have are intriguing hints, but they are so beautiful and ravishing that they draw us toward it with faith and hope.
Wade in the water, children, go under the waters, die to the old behind you, leave slavery behind, and stand up ready for the new. There is our freedom.
Like all spirituals, we have no idea where this one came from, but we do know that Harriet Tubman used it as she was leading fugitive slaves north. It has been a hit song for such groups as Honey in the Rock and many other artists.
Cynthia Liggins Thomas
Fisk Jubilee Singers