Water of life

Revelation 21:1-6
John 19:16b-18 & 28

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.

George Herbert’s poem, with its beauty, takes us to the vision of heaven offered by those verses from Revelation that we’ve just listened to. Of course, I want to be quite clear that the book of Revelation is poetry and metaphor, not history or science, and tonight I’ll be exploring poetry and metaphor, by using poetry and metaphor.

“To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life”. To the thirsty. It’s too easy to skip over those words, living as we do in a country blessed by generous amounts of rainfall, all year, every year. But if you read those words in California, Brazil, North Korea, Puerto Rico, or South Africa, countries currently in the grip of the worst drought in decades, with potentially dire consequences for millions of their citizens, and the impact is very different. NASA scientists inform us that the water-table is dropping all over the world and that we’re on the path to global drought.

Being thirsty is a daily reality faced by half the world already. Water is a gift we must treasure and conserve. Thirst is something that God wishes to quench. And thirst is something that Jesus experienced. Even in this Easter season we can still hear the reverberation of that agonising cry from the cross in John’s Gospel: I thirst. In this account, there is no darkness over the cross, no relieving shadow; those crucified would have been hanging in the full glare of the midday sun, parched and achingly dehydrated. I thirst. The word is given to us in the present continuous tense: I am thirsting. I go on thirsting. I go on thirsting in the one in nine people world-wide who do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. I go on thirsting in the one billion people who live on less than one dollar a day. I go on thirsting in the one in three who lack access to improved sanitation. On the cross, Christ writ large humanity’s need, placarded it, so that we might not forget.

In the new heaven, our reading tells us, all thirst, both physical and spiritual, is slaked by the overflowing grace of God, met by God’s everlasting spring of living water. In this Easter season we’re challenged to look to the new in hope. As Resurrection people we are drawn into God’s future and impelled to work for it with all our being. Here. Now. Your kingdom come, Lord, your will be done on earth, today, right here, as it is in heaven. We’re challenged anew to attend to the world’s thirst, called to a discipleship of attentiveness, as we listen to that parched cry from the Cross which continues to echo round the globe. Christ commands us to love one another, just as he has loved us, sacrificially and in utter self- giving. These are his dying words to his disciples.

I thirst, Jesus cries at Calvary, just as he had once before in the shadow less glare of the midday sun, this time at Sychar. Jesus, tired from his journey, sits beside Jacob’s well. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water and Jesus says to her, “Give me a drink”. And he, as she so rightly points out, is bucket-less. He lacks the means to refresh his human thirst. In the Garth of Chester Cathedral, there is a stunning depiction in bronze of this encounter between Jesus-the-parched-one and the Samaritan woman. Initially, it seems a fairly conventional retelling of the story, with Jesus and the woman elegantly depicted, facing each other in an intent gaze, their forms sited over a fountain which plays continually. But look closer and you see it has been cast as one piece, the two bodies forming an unbroken circle. Their hands meet around a bowl of water-but who is giver, and who receiver, is ambiguous. This icon compels us to read the story afresh as one of give-and-take, of mutual care. So often we focus upon the theological outcomes of this story, Jesus as the source of the living water that will quench her thirst, and ours eternally. The woman cascading this fountain to others, the response of the Samaritans, their faith in turn bursting out of them like water from a spring. But this is a story told by John, who above all others focuses upon the human experience of Jesus: his hunger and his love of hospitality, his need for friendship, his feeling for victims of injustice, his tears at the death of someone he loved, his horror at his own impending death, his washing of his friends’ feet, his thirst.

I thirst, Jesus cries from the Cross. I am thirsting. I go on thirsting. And anything you do for one of my brothers and sisters here, however insignificant, you do for me. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity take seriously this utterance of Christ every day. In every convent chapel hangs a crucifix, and beside it, simply, those words: I thirst. This needy cry from the thirst of the world is the heart of their calling. In her very last letter Teresa wrote, “let our gratitude be our strong resolution to quench the thirst of Jesus by lives of real charity-love for Jesus in prayer and love for Jesus in the poorest of the poor – nothing else”.

As Resurrection people, looking forward to the eternal new Jerusalem with its abundance of living water, we’re called to run from the well of life and share this living water with all who thirst, whether in body, mind, or spirit. We who know ourselves loved by an overwhelming and unending love must love one another until all come to know the abundance of life promised by Christ, both now and in the hereafter. This is our calling here on earth, now and until all enter through the gate of heaven and dwell in that house where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, and where all thirsts are quenched by the gushing waters of eternal life.

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