Text: John 7:37-39
Date: Day of Pentecost + 6/12/11
Of all the other feasts appointed by the Lord in the Old Testament two alone are fulfilled, completed and included in the Christian calendar, that is, they have achieved the goal for which they were created and commanded only with regard to the earthly ministry of the promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Those two feasts are Passover and Pentecost. The Passover or Paschal feast prepared for, pointed to and was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Day of Pentecost prepared for, pointed to and was fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Christians fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. The Passover with its sacrifice of a lamb, the sign of blood protecting God’s people from the angel of death and the resulting deliverance from the slavery of Egypt was appointed by God with the goal of proclaiming His deliverance of people from the slavery of sin and death through His own sacrifice of blood in the Person of Jesus. Pentecost, a harvest festival of first fruits, was appointed by God with the goal of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the preaching about Jesus on a day when people from all over the inhabited world were in attendance in Jerusalem. The first fruits festival was a thanksgiving to God as a sort of guarantee that the rest of the crop will come in in its time. As St. Paul proclaimed the risen Christ as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20), our risen Lord’s resurrection is the guarantee of your resurrection and that of all who believe in Him.
It was at a different festival, the feast of Tabernacles, a harvest festival later in the year before the Passover, that Jesus spoke the words of our Gospel today. St. John reports the rather dramatic encounter of Jesus with the people, then the Jewish leaders in the temple. Some were wondering where He attained the knowledge of what He was teaching. Others were suspicious of His motives or honesty. All remained unaware that they were speaking with the Son of God sent by the Father to redeem and save His people.
Every morning at this feast a priest would process to the fountain of Siloah with a golden pitcher, fill it with water and take it to the altar of burnt sacrifice. He would pour the water, together with a pitcher of wine, while trumpets sounded and the people would sing Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The people remembered the story from Exodus 17 when God provided water from a rock in the wilderness that Moses named “Meribah” because of the people’s complaining (Ex 17:6-7). The metaphor of water, however, reaches all the way back to the creation as the Scriptures say, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). So water has everything to do with God’s creation of life and His sustenance of life. And the Spirit was there “in the beginning.”
Therefore it was on the last day of this festival that Jesus raised His voice issuing the invitation, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” He, of course, was speaking of spiritual thirst, the thirst for God, for life, for deliverance from sin, separation and death. He invited all to come to Him because, He continued, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
This is the invitation of faith. To believe in Jesus is, first, to recognize Him as the Son of God sent by the Father, incarnate in our flesh, the Son of Mary named Jesus; to believe that He came to deliver us from sin and everlasting death. This He would bring to completion, shortly, by His chief work, namely, His innocent suffering and death on the cross and His glorious resurrection from the dead, for us and for our salvation. When He said, “as the Scripture has said,” He was not quoting an actual passage from the Old Testament but summarizing the Gospel of the Old Testament. The Greek actually says, “out of his belly” or simply “from within him” shall flow rivers. It is interesting to consider who is the “him” from whom the water flows. Is it the one who believes or the One to whom the believer comes? It is, of course, both! The living water, that is life itself, comes from God, the Son of God who gives it. But it comes to and through the believer like a river flowing also to others who would believe through the believer’s testimony.
That, of course, is the whole significance of the disciples being “filled with the Holy Spirit” on the Day of Pentecost, and of everyone else so described in the Gospels. For every time the New Testament describes anyone being “filled with the Holy Spirit” it is always followed by that person speaking, preaching, giving testimony or otherwise delivering or proclaiming the Word of God. What did the first disciples do when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” but “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance…telling the mighty works of God,” that is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ! This is what the metaphor of the “potamos” or rivers of “living water,” that is, the gift of eternal life itself is all about. Those rivers are the Word of God through our testimony (John 17:20), the liturgy and confessions of the Church, the catechism, the hymns, the prayers, the sermons, even the Christian conversation of believers, everything that testifies and witnesses to the wonderful, gracious and mighty Word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On this day we remind you that you have received the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is there whenever faith is created in the human heart—from the moment of the baptism of an infant to all the moments the Word of God enters the ears and is confessed with the mouth to that Day to which we all look forward when we will hear our Lord’s voice say, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Every time you are called on to give testimony or reason for the Christian hope that is within you the Holy Spirit is there to bring to mind all that our Lord Jesus has taught you and to be His witness, that the living waters may flow through you to others.