Garden

File:Nevuas.jpg

“Say what you want about ‘all the killing in the Bible’, the Bible begins with two narratives about relationship with God and relationship with one another and a world in perfect peace.” – from today’s sermon.

We looked at Genesis 2 in worship this morning, the narrative about the creation of Adam and Eve. What follows is the content of the booklet that was handed out following worship explaining the images used in our sanctuary today. The sermon series is designed to help us understand what Jesus was telling his followers on the road to Emmaus about the fundamental witness of the scripture to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God.   (For more information about this series, see the explanation in the post for week 1.)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANevuas.jpg By Géder Abrahão (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 2:4-25


“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”


File:Épaule musée archéologique de Naples.jpg

The creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis is a sweeping and majestic portrait of a God who speaks and whose speaking brings order, goodness and beauty, calling all things into being. The creation story in this second chapter gives a more intimate portrait of a God whose first creation is a human. Where Genesis 1 views humanity as the crown of God’s creating, Genesis 2 presents humanity as God’s first thought. Where God speaks with a royal we in chapter 1, and like a great king his word effects what he speaks, in chapter 2 we meet an artisan forming humanity from the earth and breathing into him the breath of life.

And since the Hebrew word means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, something is happening that is far more than mere respiration. Again we are in the realm of intimacy. God is not just our creator; God is our breath. And we are bound together even as God’s speaking (in Genesis 1) begets relationship.

Marbre antique, détail, épaule, musée archéologique de Naples
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%C3%89paule_mus%C3%A9e_arch%C3%A9ologique_de_Naples.jpg By photogestion [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.”


File:Araucárias ao fundo Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina - denoise.jpg

Having formed a human, God plants a garden to provide him a home. There are notions of a royal garden in this image. This is a place where God will walk in the cool of the evening (3:8) and the human creature is given the responsibility “to till it and keep it”. We are the royal gardeners, granted the right to sustain ourselves from the fruit of the garden. But we are not hired hands; we are bearers of the divine breath and companions of God.

Sunrise with Paraná pines as seen at the Serra da Bocaina National Park, Brazil..
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArauc%C3%A1rias_ao_fundo_Parque_Nacional_da_Serra_da_Bocaina_-_denoise.jpg By Heris Luiz Cordeiro Rocha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground
trees that were pleasing to the eye…


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…and good for food.”


File:Cornucopia of fruit and vegetables wedding banquet (cropped).jpg

God provides for the human all the goodness and beauty of the earth. It is God’s first act of faithfulness and love.

Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACapitol_Hill_Cherry_Blossoms_-_Flickr_-_treegrow_(14).jpg By Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA (Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A wedding cornucopia
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornucopia_of_fruit_and_vegetables_wedding_banquet_(cropped).jpg By Jina Lee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”


File:Manavgat waterfall by tomgensler.JPG

Four great rivers find their headwaters in the garden – the rivers on whose banks human society will find life: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile (Gihon), and a fourth whose identity we no longer know (though there are satellite images suggesting an ancient river across the Arabian peninsula.) Perhaps it’s just as well we do not know this river: now all the rivers of the world can be seen as arising in the garden.

And it does not matter that these rivers don’t connect with one another. That is not our author’s message. The garden is the source of life for the world. Even when the garden is lost to us, its waters continue to flow, bringing their fertility and abundance to human society.

It is an image taken up by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47) when he describes a life-giving river flowing from the new temple, by Jesus when he declares that he is the source of the water of life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38), and by the author of Revelation when the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).

Waterfall at Manavgat (Turkey).
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AManavgat_waterfall_by_tomgensler.JPG By Thomas Gensler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”


File:Louis Rémy Mignot Solitude.jpg

Amidst all the beauty and abundance of the garden, it is not yet ‘good’, perfect, complete. Humans are meant for relationship. It is not good for this human creature to be alone. It is a fundamental truth. It is part of what is meant by the image of God. For there to be love, there must be an other, a beloved. We are meant for community.

Solitude, Louis Rémy Mignot
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALouis_R%C3%A9my_Mignot_Solitude.jpg Louis Rémy Mignot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”


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And so God continues to create, bringing to the human all the other creatures of the earth.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, part of our connectedness. We know this in our pets, but also in the birds we hear singing in the morning or watch around a feeder. There is an intake of breath when we stumble across a rabbit or a deer. There is something familiar in sounds of the frogs in the pond or the sight of a lizard sunning on a rock. We talk to them without thinking about it. They are part of our community. And so the sight of a starving polar bear grieves us, or a wounded bird that has hit our picture window.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, but in all these creatures there is not a companion equal to that first human.

The King James Version translated this as “an help meet for him.” It would have benefited us if they had added a comma after the word ‘help’, (an help, meet for him) for what popularly turned into a single word, ‘helpmeet’, actually means a helper “equal to him”, or “matching him”.

So God takes a portion from the first human and from it makes another.

Adam naming the animals, Folio 5 recto from the Aberdeen Bestiary.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman.”


File:Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola ISS.jpg

The woman is not made for the first human but from him. She is separate, but she is of the same stuff as he. She is not made like the animals are made. She is unique. And they are uniquely connected.

The Hebrew words here are tricky to translate comfortably into English. The creature God makes is an ‘adam’. It is a word that refers to human beings. There are other words to refer to male and female. And there are ordinary words for a man and a woman.

Clearly the Biblical writers imagined the first human as a male, but women are also “humankind”. In Genesis 5:1-2 it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.” It is only with the appearance of this other that humanity emerges as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

Self portrait of Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below during Expedition 24.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISS.jpg By NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”


File:Adam Eve Storonov.JPG

Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’). These are not the words for ‘male’ and ‘female’; they are words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

Adam and Eve, sculpture by Oscar Stonorov
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdam_Eve_Storonov.JPG By Smallbones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017
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Water of Life

Watching for the Morning of March 19, 2017

The Third Sunday in Lent

California reservoirs are full now. We have been scrimping in our use of water, taking brief showers, flushing only occasionally, saving the water in which we cooked the pasta to pour on the plants outside the kitchen window, saving the water that runs while waiting for the hot water to arrive. Lawns were allowed to die – or were replaced. If a half-drunk cup of tea got left behind, I poured it out on the rose bushes. I worried about the trees withering on the church property. And yet we still had water. No one went thirsty. No children perished. No livestock had to be slaughtered.

Sunday the texts are about water. Israel is in the desert, fleeing pharaoh behind them and fearing the deprivation ahead of them. The little words in our text, “there was no water for the people to drink,” are truly fearful. Water is life.

In one of the great metaphors of the scriptures, Moses marches ahead to Mt. Sinai (called Mt. Horeb in this text) and there, at God’s command, strikes the rock. From it gushes forth a river of water pouring through the wilderness until it reaches the people. The Word of God is life. The voice that speaks at Sinai is a river of life.

On Sunday, too, Jesus will meet the Samaritan woman at the well, this shamed and exiled woman, unwelcome in the community of women who gather in the cool of the morning at the well in town, this woman reduced to drawing water outside of town in the heat of the day. Jesus will offer her “living water”. It is the Biblical expression for flowing water, that cool, clear, wonderful, refreshing water pouring down a rocky stream from the mountain heights. Life-giving water. But Jesus carries no bucket; the water he offers is heaven’s love, God’s word of grace.

The psalmist will warn us not to harden our hearts as Israel did in the wilderness. And Paul will write about the love of God that has been poured into our hearts. And we will be invited to drink deeply again from this water of life, this font of mercy, this heavenly draught that flows like a river from the mountain of God.

Your Will Be Done

Our focus on a portion of the catechism during Lent takes us into the Lord’s Prayer this year. Sunday we will consider the third petition: “Your kingdom come.” Here is the heart of all prayer: for God to come and bring his reign of grace and life, to govern our hearts and our world by his Spirit.

Reflections on the themes of each week and brief daily devotions related to those themes can be found on the blog site for our Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 19, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Tender,
who spoke to the woman at the well
as a daughter of your own household:
Grant us to seek and find the Water of Life
which is your Word made visible in Jesus;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

 

The Texts for March 19, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” – Following their deliverance at the Red Sea, and having been wondrously provided with manna for food as they journey towards Mt. Sinai, Israel now rises up against Moses for the lack of water. In answer to Moses’ plea, God provides them water from the rock.

Psalmody: Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – A psalm calling the community to praise God warns them also: “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,” referring to the place from the first reading where Israel rebelled against God and where God provided water from the rock.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
– Paul speaks of suffering, endurance, character and hope – hope that is not mere wish, but the confidant look to the future – for the God who justifies sinners, the God who reconciled us while we were yet enemies, who brings that day when all things are made new.

Gospel: John 4:5-42
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” – Left alone by his disciples at the well outside of town at midday, Jesus transforms the life of a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water.

Photocredit: dkbonde.  Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

God loved the world in this way

Saturday

John 3:7-21

File:Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church light cross.jpg

Interior of the Church of the Light, designed by Tadao Ando, in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

I can’t think of any other Biblical reference that is held up as a sign at a football game. It is recognized as a simple, concise summary of the Christian message. God, love, Jesus, eternal life – it’s all there. But something of the power and glory of this verse is lost when it gets separated from the rest of John’s Gospel.

First, we should note that there tends to be a grammatical misunderstanding in the way we hear this verse. It doesn’t say God loved the world ‘so much’, but God loved the world ‘in this way’. The manner in which God shows his fidelity to the world is in giving his Son.

But does the word ‘give’ mean offer him up on the cross as a redeeming sacrifice? or does it mean sending him from above to grant us new birth ‘from above’? These are not entirely separate ideas, but the accent is very different. A sacrificial lamb may carry off my sins, but it doesn’t abide in me and I in it. I am still very much a child of the earth not a child of the heavens. Water is not turned into wine. Eyes are not given new sight. I am not reborn as a citizen of heaven.

This Jesus is not a mere sacrifice that happens out there on Golgotha to change God’s attitude to me or the debt I owe; he is the light shining in the darkness that illumines and transforms the human heart, my heart.

God loved the world in this way: he brought us light and new birth. He brought us the breath of God. He brought us the imperishable life of God. In his Gospel, John piles up the metaphors for us: bread of life, living water, light of the world, gate of the sheep, the way, truth and life – all pointing not to an objective act of sacrifice on our behalf (with a promise of life after we die), but a new and transformed existence as members of heaven’s household now.

God loved the world in this way: he sent the incarnate word to abide in me and I in him.

And we haven’t yet come to the truly surprising element in this simple little verse: God did this for the world. We take this for granted, that God’s love is for everyone. ‘The world’ just means ‘everyone’ to our ears. But this word, ‘the world’, in John’s Gospel is not morally neutral. The world does not know this word from above (1:10). It hates him (7:7). Its deeds are evil (7:7). It doesn’t know the father (17:25). It cannot receive the Spirit of truth (14:17). It rejoices when Jesus is killed (16:20). And yet, it is for the sake of this world that Jesus comes and that the believers are sent.

God loves a hostile and rebellious world, God shows fidelity to this hostile and rebellious world, and shows it by sending Jesus as light into the darkness.

God shows fidelity to the Oklahoma SAE chanting racist chants by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the Syrian regime dropping barrel bombs on its people by sending his son. God shows fidelity to a world largely ignoring the Syrian refugees by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the drug gangs in Central America by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the privileged elite protecting their wealth by sending his son. God shows fidelity to every torn and tormented home by sending his son who is the voice of heaven and the light of Grace and the possibility of new birth. God shows his fidelity to every grieving heart by sending his son who is the life of the age to come. God shows his faithfulness, his allegiance to us, his passion for the world, his love, in this way – a man who is the embodiment of the face of God, who is the path to life, who is the resurrection.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like enough. But what if those students could have seen at the front of their bus an African American with arms outstretched, covered with the spittle of their hate, yet radiant with light and truth and love? Do we not, at some point, begin to regret the hammer and nails in our hands?  How many does it take on that bus, how many must begin to see, before the song loses its voice?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life. But he is more. He is the good shepherd who calls us by name and leads us out to good pasture. He is the gate that leads us into life. He is the vine to us, the branches, who through us bears much fruit.

God loved the broken and rebellious world in this way: he sent a son to bring us birth from above and make us children of heaven, sons and daughters of God.

 

By taken by Bergmann (ja:Image:Ibaraki_Kasugaoka_Church_Light_Cross.JPG) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fountains

Sunday Evening

John 4

File:Yonge-Dundas-Urbeach-christina-at-waterplay.jpg

Yonge-Dundas Square Urban beach, evening waterplay,
Copyright (c) 2004, Steve Mann.

14“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

We have a fascination with fountains.  I have no real interest in going to Las Vegas but, if I had the chance, I’d like to see that fountain I’ve seen in movies.  The waterfalls at Yosemite capture the attention, especially when they are full in the spring.  Fountains call to children and adults alike to “come and play” – though usually it is only children who answer that invitation.  Even a simple lawn sprinkler is a source of joy and delight.  And those of us with urban experience know the neighborhood transforming power of having the fire department come open the fire hydrant.

We linger at fountains.  They are joy and laughter.  They instill peace and reflection.  They spawn wishes and kisses. There is something entrancing in the splashing water, its cool clarity, the dancing play of water and light.  A fountain provides a wonderful image for the life of the spirit that has found its peace in God.

14“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

This does not mean, of course, that believers will never have days of trouble – or that the model of the Christian life is constant bubbliness.  It does not mean there are not days of discouragement – or afflictions of body, mind and spirit.  It means that there is a reservoir of hope, an underlying confidence, a joy founded on the encounter with perfect mercy that keeps us from becoming lost in ourselves and guides us on our path, wherever that path may lead.

We are headed towards the banquet that does not end.  We are inheritors of a life that cannot perish.  We are clothed in Christ risen from the dead.  We abide in the Word that infused all creation with light and life.  We have been met by a perfect mercy.

And whether we are big splashy fountains, or still, cool spring-fed pools, the living water born of the Spirit of God will overflow to others.  And should it fail to do so, we must attend again to the work of unblocking the fountain by drinking deeply from the living water that is Christ.

A life-giving river

Wednesday

Exodus 17

Overflowing river beneath Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite Photo credit: dkbonde

Overflowing river beneath Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite
Photo credit: dkbonde

5The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.”

Do we need to know that the limestone rocks of Mt. Sinai drip with ground water, and striking it could open a porous layer containing water?  The narrative does not describe a small band at Sinai poking the rocks in order to survive.  The narrative announces that by the command of God and the hand of Moses a river flowed from Mt. Sinai (here called Mt. Horeb) down to Rephidim and watered the whole people.

The story has roots in the ancient experience of the people.  They know there is water to be found in the wilderness if you know where to look – just as they know there is that strange stuff manna, secreted by bugs and falling to the ground like frost.  But the story is no longer about a small band surviving in the desert – it is about a great people for whom Sinai becomes a fountain of a river of life.

It is not story grown into legend, it is memory grown into proclamation.  A refugee people found in the word of God a life-sustaining reality.  So the descendants of Jacob, now in exile in Babylon, lost in a new wilderness, can hear the message that the word of God will be their sustaining power.  It will preserve them from perishing.  It will give them life.

Numbers 1:46 gives the number of males 20 and older as precisely 603,550 identifying exactly how many came from each tribe (Exodus 12:37 rounds it off to 600,000).  We do not know what the number means or where it comes from.  We do know what it preaches: God is able to supply all our needs!

No matter how many people are carried away into exile, no matter how many people are scattered among the nations, no matter how many of God’s people find themselves under the lash of slavery, under the sorrow of hunger, in danger of perishing from thirst, God is able to deliver his people.  God is able to provide.

And the life-giving, sustaining, renewing, joyous gift that enlivens us flows from Sinai, flows from the place where God will speak and God’s law be given.  There the instructions for the tabernacle/temple will be laid out.  There the commands to love God and neighbor.  There the teaching on faithfulness.  There the warnings against turning to idols.  This is our river of the water of life.

And then John will tell us that this Word has become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.  And this Jesus will turn water into wine, cleanse the temple, open blind eyes, give bread to the 5,000 and offer the woman at the well living water – water that will overflow abundantly within her in an imperishable life.  True freedom will come, says Jesus, “if you abide in my word.”

The people cry out against God, accusing God of bringing them out into the wilderness to destroy them.  But Moses will take the leaders on to Sinai and release this water that is our joy and our life forever.

Living water

Watching for the morning of March 23

Year A

The Third Sunday in Lent

File:Retezat Mountain - Spring Waterfall 01.JPG

Spring Waterfall, by Thalpha

The human body can go a long time without food, but not long at all without water.  It means life for Israel in the desert; it is also means life for the Samaritan woman and her village.  But the life that finds the Samaritan woman and her village is not an enduring supply of running water; it is the eternal spring of life that flows from God and wells up within those who are united with God in Christ Jesus.

Sunday we will hear about Israel in the wilderness and the water from the Rock, water that flowed from Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) where God will speak to all Israel.  The voice of God is the living water that sustains us in the wilderness, in our journey into freedom, into the promised land.

The Psalm will sing praise and yet warn us of the danger of rebellion, for the water from the rock came to a people who had turned against God in their thirst.  How easy it is to go from praise to bitterness and resentment.  Before them, Moses feared for his life.

But Romans reminds us that while we still were sinners Christ died for us,” and “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”  God is not deterred by our rebellion.  He comes to save.

And so we come to the woman at the well, and Jesus’ scandalous approach to a scandal-plagued woman, to bring her the water of an imperishable life, to make her a member of God’s household – and with her, her whole village.

The Prayer for March 23, 2014

Almighty God, Holy and Tender,
who spoke to the woman at the well
as a daughter of your own household:
Grant us to seek and find the Water of Life
which is your Word made visible in Jesus your Son

The Texts for March 23, 2014

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” – Following their deliverance at the Red Sea, and having been wondrously provided with manna for food as they journey towards Mt. Sinai, Israel now rises up against Moses for the lack of water.  In answer to Moses’ plea, God provides them water from the rock.

Psalmody: Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – A psalm calling the community to praise God warns them also: “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,” referring to the place from the first reading where Israel rebelled against God and where God provided water from the rock.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
– Paul speaks of suffering, endurance, character and hope – hope that is not mere wish, but the confidant look to the future – for the God who justifies sinners, the God who reconciles us while we ere yet enemies, will bring us to that day when all things are made new.

Gospel: John 4:5-42
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” – Left alone by his disciples at the well outside of town at midday, Jesus transforms the life of a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water.

Water of Life

Wednesday

Isaiah 12

One of the Rimsky ('Roman') fountains in Peterhof

One of the Rimsky (‘Roman’) fountains in Peterhof (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

I have never depended on a well.  I live in an arid climate, but there is always water at the tap.  There has always been water at the tap.  Hot and cold – though I sometimes have to let it run for a moment to heat up or cool down.

It is so commonplace, it is hard to remember what an exceptional luxury it is in human history, how profoundly life depends on access to water, how precious is a spring.  Among Rome’s remarkable achievements were the aqueducts.  In the 16th century Luther’s prince built a new water system for the town of Wittenberg.  It involved seven fountains for the city, seven sources of fresh water.  The Biblical narrative identifies the various springs and wells upon which ancient life depended – most, like Jacob’s well in the story of the Samaritan woman, were attributed to the work of the patriarchs, so precious and honorable and venerable were they.  Jacob meets his beloved Rachel at a well.  Disputes break out over access to them.

3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

For a people in an arid clime, it is a vivid image.  Visceral.  Access to a well is access to life.  Access to a well is salvation.

“If anyone is thirsty let him come to me,” Jesus will say, “and out of his heart will flows rivers of living water.”  A river of life will flow from the temple on that day when all things are made new declares the prophet Ezekiel.  It will not soak into the desolate ground and dry up, it will grow deeper and wider as it moves through the land.  It is an image taken up by the author of Revelation describing the New Jerusalem.  On either side of this river stands the tree of life, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.  “The Lord is my shepherd,” writes the psalmist, “he leads me beside still waters.”

God is our saving well.  God is our life-giving spring.  God is our eternal joy.

2Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

River of delights

Sunday Evening

Psalm 46

fountain

fountain (Photo credit: exosomatics)

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.

There is no river in Jerusalem.  There’s a spring that provides water for the city, but no river.  Egypt has the great river of the Nile that made it the breadbasket of the ancient Mediterranean.  The empires of Babylon and Assyria had the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that made their land the “fertile crescent,” the origins of agriculture and what we know as civilization.  Jerusalem, “the holy habitation of the most high,” has no river.

The lack of a water source was a problem when the city was under siege.  Hezekiah builds an impressive tunnel to divert water into the city from a spring outside the walls when the Assyrians advanced on Jerusalem.  Lamentations describes the parched plight of children, “The tongue of the infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives them anything.” (4.4)  A great city, a city of refuge and peace, a city that hosts the world with the wisdom of God, should have a river.

The prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of the temple rebuilt, once again made holy and inhabited by the presence of God, imagines a great river flowing from the altar, growing ever deeper as it travels through the land, giving life everywhere it goes.  The image is taken up by John of Patmos to describe the heavenly Jerusalem, where the tree of life grows on the river’s bank with fruit ripening every month of the year, “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (22.2)

There is something inherently peaceful about a river.  We picnic along its banks, we play at water’s edge, we pray and meditate by its gentle rhythms.  I am not even sure that fisherman like to fish as much as they simply like to be a part of the river.  It’s impossible to imagine God’s holy city without a river.

The Euphrates River

The Euphrates River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eden was the headwaters of four great rivers: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Gihon (presumably the Nile) and the Pishon, a river unknown to us (though there is an ancient riverbed beneath the sands of Arabia).  That they don’t connect is not the issue; this is not about geography: the waters that spring forth from Eden bring life to the world.  The fact that the spring that watered Jerusalem shares its name, Gihon, with one of these rivers is intriguing.

 “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” It is a river of life and joy, hidden from us except for those places where it bubbles up in springs and fountains.  And it bubbles up for us in the waters of baptism.  It bubbles up in the joy of worship.  It bubbles up in the delight of things like the rite of confirmation.  It bubbles up in the power of great music and mighty hymns.  It bubbles up in the word of life spoken and shared.  It bubbles up in the bread and wine that quench our eternal thirst for fellowship with the divine, for harmony with the font of all good.

Though the land of Jerusalem be dry, “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”  Already we enjoy its riverbanks.

River

River (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

7How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
      All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8They feast on the abundance of your house,
      and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9For with you is the fountain of life;
      in your light we see light. Psalm 36:7-9

37On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38

The River of Life

Friday

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. (Revelation 21:10)

On Sunday morning we will be reading again from John’s vision of the day when all things are made new, when the new Jerusalem dawns upon the earth.

Empires in the ancient world were not empires of nations but of cities: cities that rise in wealth and power and become cities of expansion and conquest, growing ever richer and stronger by the booty of the cities they conquer, and the “tribute” of the cities that surrender.  The treasures of the first temple were carried off by the Empire of Babylon.  Rome plundered the second temple and with its treasures built the great Coliseum where they entertained the crowds with the wars of enslaved gladiators and the feeding of Rome’s enemies to wild beasts and tortures.

Jesus announced God’s kingdom, God’s empire, God’s city.  In his healing of the sick, feeding of the hungry, and heralding of good news to the poor, he brought that reign of Grace.  His death seemed to belie the promise – but Easter declared it anew, and Jesus sent his followers into the world as heralds of God’s new and everlasting “empire”.

In our text the prophet is granted a vision of that new Jerusalem dawning in its fullness, radiant and shining like a bride adorned, a city that does not feed on its enemies but is a source of life for the world.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  (Revelation 22:1-2)

We come on Sunday to hear again this promise and drink deeply of the water of life.