I got to preach over this week’s reflection on Sunday. It was really fun getting to preach in a liturgical tradition and having everyone on the same page as we came in to worship, and designing the worship around the readings. So I am sharing some of it with you today:
When we look at the readings from John and Revelation we find ourselves standing in two different perspectives of history. In the reading from John, we find Jesus talking to his disciples about his departure. In Revelation, we have a scene depicting Jesus return. In the first scene, Jesus is not only preparing his disciples for his absence, but he is telling them his absence will turn out to be an even greater blessing. Jesus insinuates that the gift of the Holy Spirit will eclipse even his physical presence. Not having Jesus in the flesh will be better than having him in the flesh. This is a pretty radical claim!
And what does he promise the Spirit will bring? Peace. The Hebrew word is Shalom: healing, wholeness, the world as it should be. This is what Jesus promises with the coming of the Spirit. And in Revelation we see Shalom realized. When all hurt, pain, suffering, sin and disintegration is wiped away – here is what it looks like. The scene in John is what Shalom looks like uninhibited.
But the interesting thing for us is: we read these from a point in history located firmly in between the two. We live in the absence of Jesus’ human form, and we wait expectantly for his return. And sometimes to be honest, we can look at a picture like Revelation and get frustrated. It seems too lofty, too other-worldly, and we can wonder if it really has any meaning for me here and now. Or am I just waiting this life out? Does this peace mean anything for me today or is it something I have to wait until I die to inherit? Is peace possible in the in-between time? And if so, what does it look like?
In Revelation, John is drawing on a scene in the visions of Ezekiel. In this scene, Ezekiel is taken to a renewed temple. And much like in Revelation, this temple has streams of water. Ezekiel is invited to wade into this water and it gets deeper and deeper as he goes along. Then the angel takes him to a new spot and shows him the effects of this river. This river is constantly moving and when it encounters stagnant water, it turns it fresh. It gives old stale water new life. The water gives off nourishment for the vegetation around it, and the waters are teeming with fish ripe for the fishing.
So we have this beautiful metaphor of flowing water giving life and nourishment to everything it comes in contact with. So we want to ask the question: Where in the community of John have we encountered rivers of flowing water. In Greek, flowing water is called living water. So look at John 7:37-39:
Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
Jesus thinks it is better to have the Spirit, is because the Spirit is going to unleash this living water. But this beautiful expression of rivers flowing from a temple is not something we have to wait on. It is something we can experience NOW. The flowing waters of Shalom are not reserved for the end of time, but are moving and flowing within our own time. So while we wait for the fullness of Shalom, Jesus shows us we have access to this kind of peace right here and right now.
I bring to this verse because it tells us how to live in the tension of the two readings. It tells us how to access this peace in the in between time. Notice where Jesus locates the water. He locates the waters in a very specific place. It is WITHIN us. The temple from which it flows is you. Now most of the time we want this to be located somewhere else. If I could just get this, or if God would just do this, then I would find peace. But this is the beauty of the message of Jesus. The thing we are searching for is that which we already have.
When we begin to access these streams of living water, we begin to find that the waters go deeper and deeper. And as we wade deeper and deeper we become the kinds of people who bring life and beauty to everything we touch. We partner with God in bringing Shalom to the world.
For more on this idea, check out Shane Hipps’ book Selling Water by the River.