This morning I read Ezekiel 47, the well-known passage about the River of God (go HERE for a previous blog post on that theme). I share with you here a reflection on that great river given by the late Bishop Joe Grech:
The prophet Ezekiel has a vivid description of a river flowing from underneath the temple. The river starts small and gradually it gets bigger and wider. As it flows down, it brings life and makes the water wholesome. It teems with fish and wherever the water goes it brings health. It becomes truly a river of bounty which gives life and sustenance to everything that lies in its path.
This image was very important for the Old Testament people and it formed a very important aspect of one of the great feasts celebrated by the Jewish people, the feast of Tabernacles. This feast commemorated the forty years the people of Israel lived in the desert before they came to the land which was promised to them by God. During this time they lived in tents or Tabernacles. This feast was celebrated around mid October. On the occasion of this feast, all males were expected to come and pray in the temple and therefore this meant that during this feast there would be literally thousands of people present in Jerusalem.
At one stage, the High priest would go down to the pool of Siloam which is outside the city of Jerusalem and he will take some water from this pool and brings it back to the Temple. This was to remember the time when Moses brought water forth from the rock. It was a time of saying thank you to God for providing water for the past year and looking forward to the same blessings during the forthcoming year. During this ceremony, the passage from Ezekiel 47, the same one that we read today was proclaimed.
When the procession arrived back at the Temple, the High Priest would take the pitcher with the water from the pool of Siloam and he would pour it out through a funnel which was on the west side of the altar. This water will go underground into the valley of Kidron. For the Jewish people, Jerusalem was the centre of the world and the temple which was at the centre of Jerusalem was recognised to be the very centre from which everything else in the world flows. The ceremony of the pouring out of the water from the temple proclaimed clearly that all life, all health, all that is good, all that is worthwhile and beautiful had its source from the temple; from a relationship with God. This feast wanted to impart in a powerful and dramatic manner that when we are united with one another and with God, then we become a source of great blessings to ourselves and to those whom we encounter.
We can take all of this a step further. In the Gospel of John chapter 7, verses 37 to 38, we find Jesus in Jerusalem during the time of this feast of Tabernacles. The outpouring of the water by the High Priest took place everyday for seven days but not on the eighth day. On the eighth day according to St John, Jesus stood up and said, “Let anyone who is thirst come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink!” As Scripture says, “From his heart shall flow streams of living water”. This was a very bold and awesome statement form Jesus.
In plain English what Jesus was saying was this “The temple is not the place from which you will find peace and rest. The real purpose of your life is not formed by participating in a ceremony. This is only a reminder. God is not very far away. Just come to me. I am here to give you life. The promises that God has made with our people that He would never abandon us and that He will always be close to us is fulfilled in me. I am now the living waters which give you life. Come to me, believe in me, follow me and in doing so you will find life, fruitfulness and healing”.
What a great reminder for all of us. The meaning behind this feast is to remind all of us, that because of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ living in us, we are also enabled and empowered as a church and as a community to give life and hope to so many. Each one of us is a source of great healing and blessings. This is all the more evident when we come together as a church. Christ is still continuing his mission through all of as. We belong to a big family that is found all over the world. As a church, we are not perfect, in reality we are sinners. This is the reason why we need to maintain our close relationship with Jesus Christ. This is also why it is so important to meet regularly to celebrate the Eucharist to be sustained in our unity and encouraged to be the face, the heart and the mind of Jesus whenever the opportunity presents itself. Under the leadership of Jesus and with our feet firmly planting in the life of the church in unity with those who have been given the ministry of leadership, then we can embrace everybody. We can truly become a source of living waters giving life where there is little or none.