Uniform Lesson for August 21, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Revelation 22:1-7
Most of us today have little experience of being thirsty, truly thirsty. This most basic creaturely experience is reserved for long-distance athletes, long-wandering refugees and long-suffering saviors (John 19:28). My only real experience of being thirsty goes back to my Appalachian Trail days when a friend and I would go out for a week’s walk through the mountains of Virginia. On some particularly hot days, our water bottles would run low, and we’d start to ration our water. It was during those times that the blue icons on our maps, designating the presence of a “living” spring, would become the focus of our attention. In a similar way, the river flowing from “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v. 1) becomes the focal point of God’s new city, to which we are invited, and for which we are called to witness.
The river of life
John’s vision of God’s new creation is not simply his own but builds upon and expands visions with which he was undoubtedly familiar. This is especially true for the central architectural feature of the new Jerusalem: a river flowing out from the throne right down the middle of the only street in town (Revelation 21:21), with the trees and/or trees of life on either side (v. 2). This river of living water, in the words of Brian Blount in his commentary Revelation: A Commentary, “marks the city as a new, improved, urban Eden.” It will be well worth our time to unpack this vision a little.
As mentioned, we should begin in Eden, a garden which is also marked with flowing waters and healing trees (Genesis 2). Very early on, this river was transposed into the city of Jerusalem (which, ironically, had to be fed by a “flowing” spring, the Gihon Spring, which David used to gain access to the city, 2 Samuel 5): “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:5). Zechariah picked up on this image (Zechariah 14:8), which Ezekiel expanded to the point of utter miracle. Ezekiel’s river of flowing water heads out east of the city, getting deeper with every step, until it breaks through into the barren lands and waters of the Dead Sea, causing fish and trees and “every living creature” to spring to life (Ezekiel 47). John’s vision expands on this further by making the healing leaves, fed by these living waters, serve for the healing of all the nations (v. 2), rather than the re-purification of Israel alone. This is an image of God’s re-creative power at work in God’s beloved creation, from the beginning until the end.
So when Jesus also comes to a well and talks about “living” water, he is building on an expansive and transformative vision. The claims he makes push this even further, placing one outlet for this spring within everyone who is thirsty for God’s new life, and making clear that these creatures of dust will never thirst again (John 4). Quoting an ambiguous passage of Scripture (Isaiah 44:3 or Zechariah again), Jesus has this spring, with himself as the source, flowing “out of the believer’s heart” with the force of many rivers (John 7:38). Christians cannot help but hear the words of the baptismal liturgy, as the font of water anticipates the river flowing from the throne of the Lamb. As Presbyterians say in our baptismal liturgy: “Send your Spirit to move over this water that it may be a fountain of deliverance and rebirth …. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon N. that she may have power to do your will, and continue forever in the risen life of Christ.” This is a flowing river indeed.
One critical observation needs to be made. The biblical image is an image of flowing or living water. The key in that context is the difference between a running spring and a stagnant pond. Today the issue is “clean/potable” water. While this article is being written, we are once more worried regarding a shortage of oil, and full of talk about alternative means of energy. There is no alternative means of hydration/water. As far as this author knows, water is a non-renewable resource. We have a finite supply. And while a dust creature can go a while without bread/food, we cannot go long at all without water.
If we are called to be partners in God’s new creation, we cannot simply wait for the river John foresees. We must recognize flowing water as the precious resource it is, and not simply tell our thirsty fellow creatures to tap into “spiritual” waters and wait for the heavenly city to descend. If we would fill our baptismal fonts with clean water, we must fill our neighbor’s cups with the same.
How are we called to participate in the River of Life today?
Want to receive lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Sign up here.