the Water of Life
10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Water gives life. Water attracts life. The two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates both cradled and gave life to the dawn of civilization. The cradle of mankind, as they say, was between these two great rivers, interestingly in what we now call Iraq. Some actually believe that this was the location of the Garden of Eden. It was bordered by these two rivers, and overflowing with life that came from the abundant supply of water.
Rivers, lakes, streams, and bodies of water have throughout time been the gathering and settling points for communities. Look at almost any map; population density increases near large bodies of water.
You who live and farm here know more than most how much we need rain, and the importance of water for life.
In ancient Egypt, the Nile River was a gift of life so great that it was tied up in their religious beliefs. The power of the Pharaoh, who was part of the pantheon of gods, was in being able to make the Nile flood each year. In years when the floods failed, history records a lot of assassinations and replacements of Pharaohs. Other native African religions also have declared sites near water to be sacred places for worship, focal points for human interaction with the divine.
There was an interesting sentence in the Acts reading for today that follows this line of thought. Paul reports that he and his companions on the Sabbath went "outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer." With out knowing anything about this town, they thought that they would find a place of worship near water. Indeed, this was soon to become a holy place as Lydia and her household were soon to be baptized there.
In John chapter 4, when Jesus speaks to the woman at the well, he speaks of living water. Water that means one will never thirst again.
According to the Revelation to John, the river of the water of life, "bright as crystal" is not just any river. It flows from the throne through the middle of the street of the city, surrounded by the tree of life, through which will come the healing of the nations. That is quite a river.
"How can water do such great things?" we ask. We must consider the source. This river flows "from the throne of God and the Lamb."
Surely we cannot read of the river of the water of life, and ask this question, with out thinking of the waters of baptism, and the question that Martin Luther asked in his Small Catechism: How can water do such great things?
The answer: "Clearly, water does not do it, but the Word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this Word of God in the water." The water carries the word and is a vehicle for the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to come to us with strength and faith. Again, as in Revelation, it is nothing special about the character of the water, rather, it is the source of the water that is effective and acting.
There is a font in the Lutheran church in the town of Tailem Bend in South Australia, where that water of the river of life was first applied to me. I have seen that font only once in my adult life, and I can’t actually remember what it looks like. But there, ordinary water became life-giving water because of the word of God that was attached to it. The word of course was the command of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 28. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
It was those words that made that place a holy place for me, because it was where I first received the Holy Spirit in that special way, and was made a citizen of that heavenly city. My name, as we read in the lesson, was written in the Lamb’s book of life. But my faith does not depend on that place, or on that water. If one day that church closes down, or burns down or falls down, it will have no effect on the holiness of what was done on that day in January 1977.
Now it is interesting, isn’t it, that I mentioned the Garden of Eden earlier, because the second half of our reading surely conjures up images again of that first paradise. The tree of life, the curse, all things that we are told of in the Genesis 3 story of the fall of mankind and the expulsion from the garden.
Just as that was the beginning of our life on earth separated from God by sin, so this reading, right at the other end of the bible, tells of the time when that separation would end, and finally things would be back as they were created to be.
In the beginning, humans (Adam and Eve) walked with God, without needing a temple or any place to worship him. They had access to him, but that access was cut off by their sin, of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God removed them from the garden, so that they might not eat of the tree of life.
But now at the end the tree of life is there in the middle of the city, the city where there is no temple needed, because God and the lamb are there in the midst of it. There is perfect access to God once again.
And instead of the curse of separation coming about because of a tree, now the tree of life is for the healing of the nations, it is the very reverse of the curse of sin. And the reversing of this curse, we know full well, came about because the price of the curse was paid for on another tree, the tree of Calvary, where our access to the Father was restored.
Paradise found! Paradise regained! Where once death entered the world through sin, now life enters, through the water. It is there for us, waiting to one day happen, as the writer of revelation tells us, and we take hold of it through the water of baptism, where we are adopted by God, our names are written into the book of the lamb, and we receive the Holy Spirit.
No, there is nothing especially holy about a font. It is just a piece of furniture. There is no magic there, it is just a stand that holds a bowl of water, but we keep it in the church always, as a reminder of our baptism, of our drowning in the river of life, and of the life that awaits us forever, in the heavenly City.
Think on it sometimes, some of you who are blest to have the very font in front of you where you were baptised. Live in the water of your baptism. Walk with wet feet.
We live in a place that has a creek running through it, and a river running nearby, just as our eternal home has a river running through it, too. Look at the font in your church now and then, and think on the source of the water that filled it when you were baptised. Ordinary water, yes, but water combined with the word of God, which flows directly from the throne of God.
May God keep you always in the grace of your baptism. And bring you life and healing. Amen.