The water of life

Sixth Sunday in Easter (May 9, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 16:9-15; Ps. 67; Rev. 21:10,22-22:5; John 5:1-9

We attended the annual MCC Europe-Middle East retreat in Egypt, May 7-11. It was a refreshing time to relax and interact with colleagues who are working in peacebuilding, education and community development roles across the region. The retreat speaker was Wilma Derksen from Winnipeg, who told her compelling journey of forgiveness after the abduction and murder of her young daughter many years ago.

Colleagues from our region share dinner together during the retreat

Below is the reflection Daryl shared at the communion service on the final day of the retreat.

The Common Lectionary texts for this week contain images of water as a source of rest, of healing and of life itself. This seems especially appropriate as we are gathered here by the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and by a pool that has offered its waters for swimming and so many fun-filled water polo games.

Mediterranean Sea as viewed from border of Gaza Strip and Egypt

In the reading from Acts 16, Paul travels to Philippi. On the Sabbath Day he goes outside the city gate by the river, where he finds a quiet place to pray and to engage women leaders in conversation.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus finds a man who has been ill for 38 years. He is lying by a pool of water, which is believed to have healing powers. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man responds, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus heals the man on the spot.

Pool of Bethesda in Old City of Jerusalem

The reading from Revelation 22 contains the beautiful image of “the river of the water of life,” which flows “from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” According to John, “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit. . . . And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

Water is in short supply in many communities around the world – so projects that increase access to clean water are a high priority for MCC.

• In small villages in northern Iraq, women no longer spend hours each day carrying water, because MCC partner REACH has brought running water to their homes.
• In Baghdad, children are less susceptible to water-borne diseases and malnourishment because MCC partner Premiere Urgence has provided water filtration and education.
• In Wadi Araba, Jordanian families have more money to send their children to school because an irrigation project has expanded the amount of usable farmland.
• In the West Bank, Palestinian farmers are able to resist the occupation, because a well water project by the Palestinian Hydrology Group allows them to keep farming their land. (Under Israeli law, if the farmers stop growing crops, the land goes to the State of Israel.)

Palestinian farmer displays peppers -- grown with help from Palestinian Hydrology Group

Running water allows women to rest. Clean water allows children to stay healthy. Drip irrigation allows crops to prosper. Access to well water allows farmers to keep their land.

Water is the symbol that we often exclude from our communion table – but it was very much a part of the last supper that Jesus ate with his disciples. Before he shared the bread and wine, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

As we now begin to think about returning to our places of work, let us take with us these images of water and bread and wine. These symbols remind us of rest, of healing and of life.

Water polo game during retreat

• Rest because our relationship with God is based on God’s grace — not on our striving or deserving. We can also rest because we know that the ultimate outcome of our work depends on God, not on us. God is faithful to bring resurrection from the tragedies we encounter in our work.

• Healing because Jesus has broken down the walls that divide us from one another and has restored us to right relationship with God.
• Life itself because we are joined to the Body of Christ and God’s Spirit flows through us. Just as this great Mediterranean Sea – whose waves lap up on the shores of Egypt, Palestine/Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Bosnia, Croatia and France – literally connect us as Europe and Middle East, so too we are connected with the global body of Christ as we share this bread and wine with one another.

Reading from John 13: Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basis and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. … When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (vv. 4-5, 12-15)

On the night that Jesus was betrayed he took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” (I Cor. 11:23-25)

Perhaps you feel weary and exhausted. Come receive God’s rest. Perhaps your life feels broken, fragmented or riddled with conflict. Come receive God’s healing. Perhaps your life feels dry or dead. Come receive the water of life that God offers in abundance.

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