Cool crisp water. Many millions around our world today desire it not luxuriate in or beside, but to drink. To survive. To live.
Water divides - shore from shore, country from country, people from people, language from language. It is an all encompassing essential and brings people together round a standpipe and yet it geographically seperates.
Water is a source of the holy. In Phillipi, the river is a place of pilgrimage to worship the god Pan. It is a balm of spirituality in the bustle of a mutlicultural trade centre. People gather on it’s banks to discuss, to debate, to discover. Lydia, with other women gathers here.
She is wealthy beyond our imagining through selling purple cloth to the superrich and royalty. As a non-Jew, she worships God, but along with others, she gathers at the water’s edge to discover more. Still looking for something unnamed to fulfill her life.
Water is a source of healing. Outside Jerusalem, the pool at which the sick gather is known as ‘house of mercy’ or house of grace.’
It is a place where social and religious outcasts gather as a last resort, seeking wholeness, restoration and healing. It’s name could also mean ‘despised’ as only the lowest of the low would gather at what tradition says was a sheepdip. It is a hopeless place for one man who has sat there unhealed for 38 desperate years, a lifetime, still hoping, still longing.
Water divides - rich from poor - those who can afford it by the bottle and those demand it any way. Water draws Lydia together with others and distances this sick man and others like him from his own community and family. And yet in all cases and always this water is a gift.
Paul is drawn over the water by God’s vision of a world where rich and poor, healthy and sick are restored to one another, to their family and their community. And on the banks of that life-giving river he encounters Lydia who can afford anything in life and yet still longs for it. As Paul speaks, Lydia bubbles with excitement - what she hears him speak of is what she has been searching for - perhaps unknown or unnamed for a lifetime.
Jesus is drawn back to Jerusalem carrying God’s vision of a world where rich and poor, healthy and sick are restored to one another, to their family and their community. By the pool he encounters that man, who has nothing and yet yearns for one thing. ‘Do you wish to be made well?’ asks Jesus, yet what is offered is more than restoration to what was there before.
Water is a source of renewal - through it plants, animals and indeed each of us are restored, kept alive. Yet at water, both Lydia and that man discover that what God offers is not restoring but completely renewing.
Water is a vehicle for the grace of God - that unmerited, undeserved, unearned, unpurchasable, love and mercy and favour of God Himself which both Lydia and that man desire. And they are both drawn to the water and to the waters of grace - searching for it but they cannot find it for it is a gift to be received.
It is perhaps no accident that the grace of God was made present to that man on the Sabbath - the day to look and see mirrored in it the moment that God rested from His work of creating and delighted in it’s beauty. It is perhaps no accident that the grace of God was made present to that man on the Sabbath - the day to look and to see mirrored in it a time when all things will be made new and whole. Complete in God Himself.
We gather as a people, many of whom first came to church not really knowing why we came at all - it’s what we did, it’s what we were told to do, it seemed the right thing, to meet new people, to make friends. But as we came, we too also have come to gradually experience the grace of God - which reminds we are loved even on our most messed up days; it reminds us we haven’t got it all sorted when we feel we do; and assures us that the best in life and love is still yet to come. That unnamed, unknown something that makes sense and offers renewed hope.
We gather today, not at pool or riverside, but a time in this Eucharist, when we remember blood and water flowing for us. We gather today, not at riverside or pool, but at a time, recalling the water of of our own baptism, reflecting the grace of God to us - renewing both rich and poor alike and reorienting our lives in the Way of the Kingdom of God - upsetting expectations and resetting hopes and dreams; where creation is renewed and where heaven is opened to us - unmerited, undeserved, unearned, unpurchasable - save through the love and mercy and favour of God Himself.
This water reminds us of God’s love for all that is created. As we stand on the cusp of Ascension Day, remembering Jesus returning to be with God and taking our hopes and humanity with Him, securing a place for that in God presence forever, water points not to a restoring of what was there before - a looking back to something now tarnished, dying, missing or dirtied by time; water points us forward to life, to the grace of God, renewing each moment offering healing, wholeness and hope.