A Water Pentecost?!
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 ESV)
Recently I heard about a very green way of disposing of bodies that came from having to dispose of diseased animals when both burial or cremation still had chances of releasing the disease into the ground or the air. I was fascinated – yet another thing on this amazing planet – by this process of alkaline hydrolysis – which has been dubbed ‘water cremation’. Now that’s got to be a contradiction in terms! But that is where my brain jumped when I read today’s Gospel. Our lectionary compilers record Jesus speaking in Jerusalem at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles – at the end of the harvest and when the people of Israel also remembered how they tabernacled – camped and travelled and travelled and camped in the wilderness for 40 years with God in their midst in The Tabernacle. This sort of remembering – this festival – was designed to remind them that God was still caring for them – still providing food and drink, light and protection.
And what does Jesus do? In John chapter 6 he talks about himself as the bread of life. In chapter 7 he says that he can provided water – he is the rock in the wilderness from which the water flowed. In chapter 8 and into 9 he is the light of the world and it is he who brings people from darkness into the light. The wilderness and the Exodus of long ago are transported to Jesus’ time, Jerusalem, Israel, Galilee and Jesus is doing a new thing – a new covenant – bringing about new creations in him. And it is this message and truth that the lectionary compilers pick up on – just as John himself picked up on when he links Jesus and water to Pentecost – to the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit so that people will never be spiritually parched again.
Pentecost is associated with fire. We know the story in Acts 2. Sometimes described – and I think erroneously – as the birth of the Christian Church, I’d prefer to liken it as the inaugurating of the public broadcasting of the Good News – the best news this world has ever and will ever hear – that sins no longer have to define us, that death no longer has final say over us, and that we can live in a forgiveness and love, struggling with our sins, and with a peace and confidence that nothing can separate us from God’s love … in Christ Jesus! That’s the crucial part … the rest is just wishful thinking until you know why.
The world says in various religions that the gods will either be whimsical to us – which gives us no security or hope – or they will respond to us if we give them something – worship, adoration, sacrifices, and so on. The Holy Spirit’s work is to get people to hear another message – and it is hard to do because we resist this message, it goes against the grain, it doesn’t match the other religions because it does the opposite. Instead of us having to serve God, God freely serves us! And the Holy Spirit wants the focus of this message to be Jesus – everyone else is flawed, sinful, dying, fearful – but not Jesus. He is faithful. He is truthful. He is determined – he fights all spiritual powers for us. He is patient. He is merciful. He is loving. He is kind. He is challenging because we can’t get away with anything before him – but instead of being terrorised by his punishment over time we become ashamed because he doesn’t compromise on sin but he is endlessly merciful. This is the Jesus we meet in the Bible. Challenging! (In a few verses he will not condemn the woman caught in adultery but he will also clearly tell her, ‘go and do not sin again’ meaning no more adultery.)
And yet whenever we meet Jesus – young or old – when we are challenged by him – he always offers us refreshment – draw a line and start again – of course it is hard – that is why Pentecost and the Holy Spirit are
all about repentance – not just once, daily repentance as the Holy Spirit takes words, water, bread and wine and binds us and Jesus together. Jesus is willing … are we?
What a paradox today! Living water at Pentecost! The dead Jesus is the victorious Lord. And us who struggle in our discipleship are called the children of God because the Holy Spirit keeps broadcasting – Jesus loves you – Jesus died for you – Jesus is alive for you – Jesus is with you – don’t be afraid – your sins are forgiven – live your life to the full in confidence and joy – nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!