In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the waters and the universe was born (13.5 billion years ago or so.) Alpha. Genesis. Birth. And here as scripture comes to an end, Christ pours us a bracing cup of living water. Omega. Revelation. Rebirth. As it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end.
In the beginning, we all get our start in water: safely tucked inside the womb, cramped and cradled until it is time, until the contractions start and the water breaks. Out we come on a wave of living water, squirming and screaming full throttle into God’s crazy world. A beautiful mess.
The rhythm of life begins and its pretty good. You eat. You sleep. People carry you around and sing to you, play peek-a-boo with you. Everything is just great until someone gives you that first bath. Have you ever given a baby their first bath? They wriggle and squirm. It is beyond their comprehension why you would subject them to this torture. Babies do not realize that there is dried milk behind their ears and dirt between their toes and they don’t care. But their parental units do care, and they are going to give that baby a bath because they know what is good for them.
A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of baptizing seven of God’s children on a single Sunday morning: one adult, four babies and two toddlers. There was a little three-year-old named Eric who was not too keen on this baptism thing. At the class the day before, Eric hung back not wanting to “play baptism” with me. Very cautious, very skeptical, very astute for a three-year-old.
On Sunday morning, poor little guy reeled in agony as his mom lifted him up and leaned in over the font. He waved his metal truck wildly screaming NOOOOOOOOOO!!I ducked but managed to dribble a little water on his frantic forehead.
Eric, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Eric, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
At this point, indignant little Eric is wiping his face with the little linen towel. I knelt down to half apologize. Sorry little guy. Baths aren’t always fun. But that was God’s love, the water of life, raining down on your head.
Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let everyone who wishes, take this water of life as a gift.
Deep in the first century on the Island of Patmos a man named John (no, not the apostle John, a different John) wrote down his wild and wooly visions. Vivid fantastical pictures of his community’s struggle under the persecution of Rome. The visions are at times violent and terrifying, filled with beasts and dragons. Allegorical and symbolic, the powers of good battle the powers of evil. Neither really wins but hope literally springs eternal. The water of life soaks the soil sprouting seeds and drenching roots. Maybe there can be a new heaven and a new earth. Maybe life really can rise out of death.
20 centuries on, we live in an equally thirsty world. Peruse the news and lots of it is not so good. Division reigns. Tribalism rules. We seem endlessly locked in a struggle of us versus them. We cling to power rather than pursue the common good. Entrenched in our bubbles and bunkers, we demonize those who disagree with us, those who do not believe like us, and those who do not love, like us. Beasts and dragons, one and all, we cast them out. We fight a futile scorched earth offensive, where living water is hard to find.
Once upon a time, there was a little parish tucked on the side of a hill struggling on their own little Island of Patmos. The parish had a strong tradition of outreach to the community. Their neighbors were both poor and without a roof over their heads. So, they organized a soup kitchen and an overnight shelter. They hammered nails repairing houses and they sat bedside with the sick. But there was another thirst in the community — just as deep — hoping to be quenched.
The apartments around the church were home to a host of Ethiopians, many of whom had fled the oppressive government of the late Haili Sallassi – and most of these Ethiopians were Christians. But adrift in Northern Virginia, they had no spiritual home, no literal House of God to call their own. So, the people of this little parish flung wide their doors and welcomed their neighbors in. They decided to share their worship space and birthed a new congregation: The Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation, Noah’s Ark, Holy Mother Church. (Yes, that really was its name!)
On Saturday afternoons, this little Episcopal Church was transformed. Icons were propped up in every window. The priest swung the thurible; incense rose to the skies. A hundred praying people huddled in the pews. Living water flowed and Christ was worshipped anew.
So, Emmanuel, turn your eyes toward heaven. Look up into the ceiling of the sanctuary. The wooden scaffolding resembles the ribs of an upside-down ship. Now, we Episcopalians have nerdy words for everything and we call the sanctuary the nave. Literally a Latin naval word for ship – nave was an early icon of the church. Hop aboard the ark. The waves of life may be rough but Christ captains the boat.
This holy water sloshes and splashes over, above and around. Remember Matthew 25: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink? With every item dropped into the ALIVE Food Pantry basket, with every juice box packed into lunch bags for the homeless, with every cup of Saturday morning coffee poured at Carpenter’s Shelter; with every Sunday morning sip from the communion cup, Emmanuel’s water breaks, and Christ quenches a thirsty world.
Come, let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.