Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5; John 5:1-9
“I go down, down, down.”
Reflecting on her experience of walking from the concrete deck into the deep end of the pool, my then nearly 2-year-old described wide-eyed what happened earlier that day. Her surprise still evident even hours after she briefly went “down, down, down.” She discovered that she could not, in fact, walk on water in Columbus, Georgia, at a hotel swimming pool. I’d been in the shallow end with her brother, my husband seated nearby, when our little girl, trusting and confident, marched to the edge of the water and kept right on walking. Thankfully, we watched the scene unfold and reacted quickly. I swam to her and went down, down, down after her, plucking her up to the surface as she sputtered and looked more shocked than afraid. Throughout the day and the next she would return to the incident trying to make sense of it. Going down, down, down, unable to do anything other required processing. What she’d anticipated as solid turned out to be anything but — unable to hold her because she didn’t know yet how to float. One moment she was walking and dry, the next sinking and soaking wet.
Life has a way of surprising us with unexpected journeys both literal and metaphorical. A vision compels you to set sail from Troas to Macedonia. Thirty-eight years of scrambling to get into the pool comes to an end after a brief conversation with a man you cannot see but who took notice of you. A new heaven and a new earth emerge from the good but ravished creation, temple free and river full. All you thought solid and sure turns liquid beneath your feet and you go down, down, down only to be pulled up and plopped safely in the arms of a loving parent. Afterwards, you attempt to make sense of it all: the near drownings, the last-minute changes in course, the extended suffering and the miraculous turnarounds, healings and new beginnings.
All three readings deep into this Easter season invite us to remember that God moves, intercedes, provides, transforms. The river of life flows between heaven and earth, troubles the waters, makes a way for healing through or around pools, creates places of prayer outside the gates beside the raging streams and inside sanctuaries around fonts where saving grace is proclaimed. Have you caught a glimpse of that vision yet this Easter? Set sail without looking back in response to it? Basked in the shade of the tree of life? Been refreshed in the water that flows from the throne of God and into the city? Said with utter honesty or frustration, “I can’t get to where I need to go” — only to discover God meets you where you are and then sends you on an altogether new way?
Sometimes it is in going down, down, down that we discover the power of being brought back up by a loving, attentive, saving power. Down to the gate, the pool, the river, the depths of despair, the limits of our abilities, strength and understanding when, to our utter surprise, we find Jesus or his witnesses — or really, they find us. What was Lydia praying about that day that Paul sat down to talk to her? Certainly, she did not know the new course she would take by virtue of going to that place of prayer on that particular day. That man, blind, lame and paralyzed, what did he think would happen when he went yet again to try and get in the pool? Surely, he never imagined that he would walk away from the place where he’d been trampled upon year after year. The new heaven and the new earth came down, down, down to greet Lydia and meet that man by the pool at the Sheep Gate and no doubt seeks us out even now. You never know when the ground beneath you will shift, the earth quake, the graves open, the curtain be torn in two and sin, evil and death defeated. Today might be the day when the same place you’ve been your whole life is invaded by the saving power of Jesus Christ, the river of life bursting its bounds and flowing into the streets of your city. All you formerly assumed upended, leaving you to share the story of this unexpected encounter that made all things new.
That same daughter who went down, down, down into the water became a decorated swimmer, never once afraid of getting back into the pool. Instead, she grew fascinated with the wonder of going down and being brought up equally inexplicably in her childhood mind and memory. One second you are upright and walking, the next submerged and disoriented, the one after that back on land embraced and safe. So it is for God’s beloved children. One day persecuting Christians, the next blinded and unable to go the way you’d planned, the one after that proclaiming Jesus Christ from Troas to Macedonia to jailers and women gathered in prayer. Day after day, for 38 long years, walked over, passed over, looked over and then, on this day of days, noticed, seen, healed and able to stand on your own two feet.
Trust that God is at work in all of our ups and downs, mundane routines and extraordinary events because through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the healing water we could not reach comes to us, the river of life flowing from the throne of God into the streets and all around us. We go down, down, down into the water, dying and rising with Christ, named, claimed, marked and sent to tell the story: the story of Jesus Christ, the story of salvation, ours and that of all creation. A new heaven and a new earth, a vision of God among mortals, not just in the future but right now, present, at work, interceding, intervening, transforming, testifying to Lydia by the river, healing the man long dismissed by the pool, pulling up from the depths many who didn’t even know they were drowning and saving those who thought they’d never walk on solid ground again.
- How do we know where God is sending us? Are we willing to respond when we sense that God is instructing us to go to unplanned places?
- Why do we go to places of prayer regularly? What do we experience in those places?
- Lydia prevailed upon Paul and his companions to come stay at her home. How do we extend hospitality to others as a result of our encounter with the Word of God?
- Read the dialogue between Jesus and the man beside the pool. What do you notice about their exchange?
- In the description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation there is no temple. Why?
- Water in one form or another is present in all three of the texts appointed for this Sunday. What does water imagery mean to you? What does water represent in our tradition?
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