Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lenten Vespers In the Week of Judica (Lent 5)

John 19:31-42; Ezekiel 47:1-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In exile in Babylon, the LORD granted Ezekiel a vision of the heavenly kingdom and temple in order to encourage and strengthen the faith of His people that they might have hope and persevere through their exile and tribulation in the promise that the LORD would not only restore His people Israel, but would fulfill His covenant promise that, through them, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Ezekiel saw that water issued forth from the threshold of the temple and out through the East Gate, and, though it had no tributaries, the waters grew progressively wider and deeper, a mighty river, as it made its way through the desert wilderness towards the Salt Sea. On the banks of the river grew many trees, bearing their fruits each month, their fruit for food and their leaves for healing.
The vision is nearly identical to that granted the Apostle John in the Revelation: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Indeed, the river of Ezekiel and John’s visions is one and the same, and it flows from the side of the Temple of Jesus’ body upon the cross. When that Roman soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, cleansing, purifying, forgiving blood and water issued forth. Lucas Cranach’s famous altarpiece featuring Jesus’ crucifixion depicts that blood and water spraying out upon the people. Mel Gibson depicts the same, yet more graphically, in The Passion of the Christ as the soldier’s face is splattered with Jesus’ blood, seemingly fulfilling the cry of the crowds who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion: “His blood be on us and on our children!”
The ever-widening and deepening River of Life flowing from the temple made its way toward the eastern regions and down into the Arabah, entering the Salt Sea, also known as the Dead Sea. The Salt Sea was so named due to its unusually high salt count, nearly ten times higher than that of the ocean. No fish or marine vegetation could live there. However, the Sea could sustain life when the fresh and living waters of the Jordan River flowed into it. In Ezekiel’s vision, the River of Life made the lifeless sea fertile and nourishing once again, even in a superabundant way: “And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.”
The River of Life, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its forms – Word and Water, Bread and Wine – creates life in the lifeless, barren, desolate desert and in the deadest of seas. Just as the river in Paradise gave life to the plants and trees of Eden, and then flowed out in the four rivers to give life to all creation, so the River of Life flows out of the very source of life itself – God – to grant life to all creation. In the Revelation, St. John fuses the Old and the New Testaments together into one united picture of the new temple, the new river, the new Eden, and the new life that comes in Jesus Christ through water. The river of the water of life comes from the throne of God and of the Lamb. This throne is the Garden of Eden, the mountain of the house of the Lord, the new temple, and the crucified body of Jesus Christ. All of these images of God’s dwelling place are united in one composite picture.
And, we have access to this river already now, for it is the river of Holy Baptism. Baptism is the river of the water of life. It is the river that flowed from the spear-pierced side of Jesus on the cross. It is the river that is made crimson by His healing blood. Baptism carried us back into the Garden of Eden, back into God’s presence. Baptism gives us access to the body and blood of Jesus in the Supper, the new tree of life. Baptism clothes us not with fig leaves, but with the body of Jesus. People from all four corners of the world are washed in this river. The Spirit carries them on these watery waves back to where God dwells in peace, mercy, and paradise.
Throughout this Lenten season we have heard the LORD’s Word concerning how He uses water to refresh, renew, restore, and recreate His fallen, sin-marred creation. From the beginning, God especially singled out water as the element of creation to which He joins His Word to grant life, healing, unity, and peace. From the Garden of Eden to the new Jerusalem, there is never a drought of God’s mercy, a mercy saturated with His love and reddened with the blood of His Son. All of these various uses of water point toward and culminate in the baptismal font. Here is the water that unites heaven to earth, the water teeming with life, the river of Eden. Here is where we fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are reborn and re-created. Our sin-parched souls are flooded with His forgiving grace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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