The end is upon us. I know, it’s a touch melodramatic, and, more than that, it feels irresponsible to say with a full week of class and exams still to go - let’s not get ahead of ourselves, right? But think with me here: there’s this Sunday, next Sunday, which is our last before exams - Becca, our lone graduate will preach - then the exams themselves. And exams can be a lot like death - not in that sense but in the sense that it can be hard to coordinate the exit. You finish. Some folks are still here. Some aren’t. Some are still studying. Others have “passed on.” There’s no going out together. Some of you will be here to celebrate Pentecost on the Sunday after exams, graduation weekend; others of you will have gone home already, to begin summer jobs and other adventures. So this weekend and next, really, is what’s left. Saying goodbye to one another, and to a year that I pray has been good for you. A year in which I pray you have grown, been challenged and blessed.
With closure and the getting ready of goodbyes in mind, it would seem natural to gravitate toward John’s gospel tonight, where Jesus is saying goodbye to his friends. But I’m not Jesus, and you aren’t, either. And besides, there’s another image in our scriptures that - all week long - has been compelling me to follow it. It’s the image of the river, bright as crystal in the book of Revelation:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
How can a river be bright, I’ve wondered. And this river runs through the middle of the road, we’re told. There’s this camp in the Texas hill country that requires of those who would access the camp that they drive up a shallow creek. The road literally is the river, or the river is the road. And I’ve thought this week about that road. Only brighter. And this river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, sustaining fruit-bearing trees, planted along its banks, and the leaves of these trees are healing.
These trees are the Tree of Life, but it’s hard not to think, also, of the first psalm:
Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of
the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
Tonight, at the end, I want us to plant ourselves beside this water for a moment, remembering as early church father Apringius of Beja once said, “The living water [of this stream] is the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“For we have been buried with him by baptism into death.” Therefore, the living water which is like crystal and is perfectly clear is the washing of the holy font and the resulting brightness of most blessed faith. It is said to flow from the throne of God and the Lamb because the cleansing is from him, life is from him, and all righteousness and holiness of baptism flows from and proceeds from him.
We gather at the river, and Christ is the river. All year long, we have gathered at this river, where we have found food and drink, new and unending life. We have gathered at this river where we break bread, share the cup, remember our baptism. Gathered at this river as Jimmy was baptized. Gathered at this river singing hymns, asking prayers: let all who are thirsty, come, we sang. And I wonder if you remember the year’s very early beginning, the first Sunday after Labor Day, when we gathered around the waters of baptism and you traced a cross on your sister’s forehead and said to your brother, “My life and death is with my neighbor.”
The Christian life is learning to put down roots at this river. Christ is the river. Because, says Apringius, “the cleansing is from him, life is from him, and all righteousness and holiness of baptism flows from and proceeds from him.”
In our collect tonight, we asked God to pour love into us, so that we might love. Here again, the recognition that Christ is the source, even of our ability to love God. So also, Christ is the source of our love for one another.
When we love one another, we share the love of Christ the river. We find all that we need to love one another in him.
As we begin to end this good year at St. Francis House, I want to invite you to join me and wash one another’s feet with the waters of baptism. As we do so, we remember that our love has its source in the river whose waters are bright and come from the throne of God and the Lamb, sustaining fruit-bearing trees, planted along its banks, and that the leaves of these trees are healing.