It’s spring, which means rivers in Missouri are rising. The rising physical rivers of spring bring potential danger; the rising spiritual rivers of Lent offer new and deeper life.
This week we hear the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of a river that springs from the temple in heaven. It’s a foreshadowing of Jesus: Healing water flows from the temple’s side, just as saving blood and water flow from Jesus’ side on the cross.
An angel has Ezekiel wade in the water as it progressively deepens. What makes the river remarkable, though, is the quality of its water — it brings life and healing wherever it goes. Trees planted by the river bear fruit every month, and their leaves are used as medicine for healing. The river is clearly a symbol of God’s grace.
Ezekiel’s prophetic vision is fulfilled in Jesus, especially in the readings we hear from the Gospel of John in the final weeks of Lent. Jesus just finished telling the Samaritan woman that He will be “living water” for anyone who believes in Him. Then He flows through the following chapters, like the river in Ezekiel’s vision, bringing healing wherever He goes. Jesus tells people that His relationship with the Father is the source of that healing river, and He invites everyone to enter into that relationship.
Throughout the week we hear two kinds of reactions to Jesus’ offer. There are people who accept His grace and are healed; there are people who reject His grace and remain in their sin. Their examples become a question for us: which will we choose?
There are parts of our lives — attitudes we have, words we say, things we do — where God’s love, joy, peace and patience are reflected in us. That’s where God is offering us the fresh water of His grace. Those parts of our lives are life-giving to us; they bear good fruit in our relationships with others.
There are also parts of our lives where we’re restless and ashamed, agitated and isolated. That’s where we step out of the fresh water of grace and experience the salt water of sin. When our attitudes and words and deeds are dominated by these it sucks the life out of our relationships; it leaves a trail of anger, bitterness and resentment in ourselves and others.
Which of those do we choose to draw on — the waters of grace or the waters of sin?
On Monday, as we turn the corner into the deepest part of Lent, the Church has us read from the prophet Isaiah. God tells His people: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” In the physical world around us, the rain and sunshine and warmth of spring have prepared the ground, and new life is budding forth. In the spiritual world, too, God is sending His grace to prepare the ground in our hearts. Will we receive His love, and burst forth in new life?
The water of God’s grace offers us life and joy, while sin offers us bitterness and death. In these last weeks of Lent, which will we choose?