By Ed Little
A Reading from the Gospel of John 7:37-46
37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” 41Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? 42Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 43So there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” 46The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!”
My Fitbit app tells me that I should consume 64 fluid ounces of water every day, and no wonder: our bodies crave water and die without it. Some 60% of our bodies are made up of water, and the supply must be endlessly replenished.
Jesus is speaking to the crowd in the temple on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, when Jews remember forty years’ wandering in the desert. The feast included a ritual in which water was ceremonially poured onto the ground. That’s a reminder, Jesus says, of our deeper need. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Just as our bodies crave water to survive, our hearts crave God-given drink, deep drafts that renew and refresh us.
“Now [Jesus] said this about the Spirit,” John comments, “which believers in him were to receive.” We were designed to “run” on the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who hovered over the water at creation, the same Spirit (the word “spirit” and “breath” are identical in Hebrew and Greek) whom God breathed into the first human being, the same Spirit whom Jesus breathed into his disciples on Easter evening. And there’s more, Jesus tells us. “As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” The Holy Spirit is meant not only to refresh us, but also to empower us. We are conduits, Jesus says, of the Spirit’s grace and power to others.
We can never pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” too often! We do so at baptism (“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit”), at confirmation (“Strengthen, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit”), at ordination (“Give your Holy Spirit . . . fill him with grace and power”), and at every Eucharist (“Sanctify us also”). We pray that prayer, over and over, because Jesus reminds us that we are thirsty!
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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The Anglican Church of Burundi
Church of the Transfiguration, Vail, Colo.