At the time I write this post, it is unclear whether shelter in place orders will have been lifted when the Church celebrates Pentecost.
If so, I imagine Pentecost will be celebrated with a new-found sense of community. The physical presence of others, gathered around word and sacrament, so often done but so seldom noted, will now be appreciated in a deeper way. On Pentecost, our physical presence together will help us celebrate the Holy Spirit, gathering God’s people together from all nations to form the body of Christ.
Whether we are physically gathering together or not, however, there is one experience we will still remember that may help our meditation today.
Do you remember searching your kitchen for food in the midst of the stay at home order? I do not know about you, but I found myself rummaging through the fridge, the freezer, and the pantry to find something to eat. I was hungry. Rather than go outside to the store or to restaurants, I was turning inside, looking for food within. I never knew how much food I had packed away in the far recesses of the pantry and I began to appreciate the ancient resources (and I do mean ancient) which were on hand.
Pentecost traditionally turns our eyes outward. We see God gathering many nations in Jerusalem, speaking the message of salvation in many languages, and sending out disciples to the ends of the earth. This Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit turns our eyes outward as we celebrate the mission of God.
There is another dimension to Pentecost, however, and it is a dynamic we may not always celebrate as it turns our eyes inward. It asks us to meditate on the depth of the Spirit before we celebrate the breadth. This is the dynamic mentioned in the gospel reading. The Holy Spirit is the gift of living water that flows from within (7:38).
In our gospel reading, consider how Jesus emphasizes the depths of the Spirit. Crowds have gathered in Jerusalem for a festival. It is the last and greatest day of the feast. At the Feast of Tabernacles, Israel gathered to remember God’s provision (Leviticus 23:39-40). After gathering the harvest, God’s people came together and dwelt in booths. They recalled how God provided for them during the wilderness wanderings (Leviticus 23:42-43) and anticipated how God would continue to provide in a land flowing with milk and honey. Whether wandering in the wilderness or living in the land, God provides for His people. He is their resource within.
As this feast is ending, Jesus stands up. The daily processions bringing water from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple have ceased. Yet, on this day, when human actions are ending, the divine action is just beginning. Jesus now speaks of living water which He will pour into the lives of His people. This is His gift of the Spirit. After His death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus will send the Spirit. God’s people will have a source of living water, constantly flowing from within.
Yet, on this day, when human actions are ending, the divine action is just beginning.
Interestingly, this is not the first time Jesus has spoken about living water. Earlier, when Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well, He offered her living water (4:10). What was then said in private is now being proclaimed publicly. What was said in Samaria is now uttered in Jerusalem. In both cases, however, there is a future harvest in view.
With the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus opens the eyes of His disciples to the field ready for harvest as the Samaritans from the town come to the well to greet them. With the people of Israel in Jerusalem, Jesus opens their eyes to a future harvest that will come when the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost.
In either case, there is a stress on the living water of the Spirit. Yes, Pentecost celebrates the outreach of the Spirit to all nations but first it celebrates the in-reach of the Spirit among those who believe. Whether they are in public or in private, whether they are an Israelite or a Samaritan, whether they are included in community or excluded from community, Jesus gives them living water, the gift of the Spirit, from whom divine life will continue to flow.
God’s love is not bound by our experiences of separation. Christ has borne our sin in crucified isolation so He might be our salvation in all places of life. He promises us the living water of His Spirit. His is an internal resource which never fails.
Christ has borne our sin in crucified isolation so He might be our salvation in all places of life.
Perhaps during the stay at home order, you found yourself drinking from the living water of this Spirit. The resources may have been old. A practice of family devotion long forgotten as the kids got older. A bible reading plan you had not looked at in years. Deeper conversations with loved ones that led to deeper conversations with God. No matter how old, how unused, how forgotten, these ancient things are the source of living water. They continued to sustain you after all these years.
Whether we are sheltering at home on Pentecost or gathering together in church, we have reason for praise. Jesus Christ is the source of the Spirit and that Spirit will never fail. Jesus offers us His promise of living water, the life of the Spirit, and that life flows from the heart of all who believe.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 7:37-39.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 7:37-39.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 7:37-39.