On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Today is the Day of Pentecost, which commemorates Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit to His Church. The Church lives and moves and has her being through the gracious inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without God’s Spirit, no one could come to Christ or believe in Him. No one would be saved. The fifty-day celebration of Easter ends with this joyous festival. The risen and ascended Savior has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Sanctifier, entering our hearts at Holy Baptism, nurturing us through the Word, and enabling us to understand the Gospel and to live a life that honors God and serves our neighbor.
The Day of Pentecost traditionally turns our eyes outward. We see God gather many nations in Jerusalem, speaking the message of salvation in many languages, and sending out disciples to the end of the earth. This Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit turns our eyes outward as we celebrate the mission of God.
There is another dimension to Pentecost, however, and it is a dynamic we may not always celebrate as it turns our eyes inward. It asks us to meditate on the depth of the Spirit before we celebrate the breadth. This is the dynamic mentioned in the Gospel reading. The Holy Spirit is the gift of living water that flows from within (John 7:38). I invite you, this day, to “Come to the Living Water” and to consider how Jesus emphasizes the depths of the Holy Spirit.
Crowds have gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths. It is the last and greatest day of the feast, where each year Israel gathers to remember God’s provision. After gathering the harvest, God’s people come together and dwell in booths, often made from the branches of fruit and palm trees. They recall how God provided for them during the forty years of wilderness wanderings and anticipated how God would continue to provide for them in a land flowing with milk and honey. They were encouraged to remember that whether wandering in the wilderness or living in the land, God provides for His people.
By the time of Jesus’ ministry, a ritual had developed that each morning during the seven days of the feast, at the time of sacrifice, a priest proceeded to the fountain of Siloam with a golden pitcher. He filled it with water, and, accompanied by a solemn procession, carried it to the altar of burnt sacrifice. There, he poured the water, together with the contents of a pitcher of wine from the drink offering, into two perforated bowls. The trumpets sounded, and the people sang Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” This ceremony commemorated the water that miraculously gushed out of the rock at Meribah and that was intended to quench the thirst of the multitude in the wilderness, a foreshadowing of the spiritual Rock, Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
All faithful Jews were expected to be in Jerusalem for this third of the annual feasts proscribed by God. At first, it looks like Jesus won’t make it, because the Jews are seeking to kill Him. His unbelieving brothers taunt Him: “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing…If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” Jesus does not go with His brothers, but goes later, not publicly but in private. About the middle of the festival He begins teaching in the temple. Many people believe in Him, some seek to arrest Him and kill Him, but no one lays a hand on Him, because His hour has not yet come.
On the last day of this feast, the great day, Jesus stands up and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Interestingly, this is not the first time Jesus has spoken about living water. Earlier, when Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well, He offered her living water (John 4:10). What was then said in private is now being proclaimed publicly. What was said in Samaria is now uttered in Jerusalem. In both cases, however, there is a future harvest in view.
With the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus opens the eyes of His disciples to the field ready for harvest as the Samaritans from the town come to the well to greet them. With the people of Israel in Jerusalem, Jesus opens their eyes to a future harvest that will come when the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost.
In either case, there is a stress on the living water of the Spirit. Yes, Pentecost celebrates the outreach of the Spirit among those who believe. Whether they are in public or in private, whether they are an Israelite or a Samaritan, whether they are included or excluded from community, Jesus gives them living water, the gift of the Spirit, from whom divine life will continue to flow.
God’s love is not bound by our experiences of separation. Christ has borne our sin in crucified isolation so He might be our salvation in all places of life. He promises us the living water of His Spirit. His is an internal resource which never fails. He does not leave us as orphans. He does not leave us alone. He promises to be with us always. And where two or three are gathered in His name there He is in the midst of them.
This is certainly good news for us as we have just started gathering once again in the Lord’s house. For though the Church has been scattered and forced to go underground at times during its history, the Christian faith was never intended to be a private matter, but a shared faith. Yes, the Lord still comes to us even in isolation, but the Church was intended to be a gathering of God’s people around the means of grace—God’s Word and Sacrament. While I thank God that we have so many ways of communicating so easily at our disposal—social media, Facetime, and Zoom are poor substitutes for actually gathering with your family, friends, and fellow believers for worship. Much less is live streaming or services on television fully satisfactory substitutes for the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in His means of grace and the fellowship of our brothers and sister in Christ who are gathered with us. The Lord has made us members of His body.
I pray that we will celebrate this Day of Pentecost with a new-found sense of community. I pray that the physical presence of others, gathered around Word and Sacrament, so often done but so seldom noted in the past, will now be appreciated in a deeper way. May our physical presence together today help us to celebrate the Holy Spirit, His gathering of God’s people together from all nations to form the body of Christ, even as we long for the day when we may all gather together again.
Whether you are sheltering at home on Pentecost or gathering together with your fellow Christians in Church today, you and I have reason for praise. Jesus Christ is the source of the Spirit and that Spirit will never fail. Jesus offers to everyone His promise of living water, the life of the Spirit, and that life flows from the heart of all who believe.
Come to the living water! Through the proclamation of the Word of God, the Spirit is at work to bring Christ to you, that He might forgive your sins and dwell within you. The Holy Spirit brings your risen Savior to you this day, that Christ might cleanse you of sin and satisfy your thirst with living water, that you might be His people forever.
The Holy Spirit works through the spoken Word of God. Moses spoke the Word of God to the rock in Horeb, and water flowed. We proclaim to you the Word of God and living water flows; for by the work of the Spirit, Christ is here to take away your sins. Furthermore, as you speak the Psalm and chant the liturgy, and as you sing the hymns this day, living waters flow from you as you proclaim the Gospel to one another—just as they flow when you share the Gospel with those whom you encounter in your daily vocation. Thus we rejoice in the Word of God and its proclamation today.
Come to the living water! In Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the youngest infant or the oldest man or woman, to deliver Christ by water and the Word. There at the font, He washes our sins away. There the only-begotten Son of God makes us sons of God and heirs of His kingdom. By water and the Word, the Spirit delivers Christ; and Christ delivers His living waters of salvation to you, that you might be His forever.
Come to the living water! In Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit delivers Christ to you. Jesus, who turned water into wine at Cana and who multiplied bread for the 5,000, now gives you His body and blood in with and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. There, at His altar, He grants forgiveness and nurtures faith; there He strengthens and preserves you, body and soul, unto life everlasting.
Dear hearers, rejoice! The Lord is truly among you. He was with His people at Massah and Meribah, giving them water from the rock to sustain their lives. He was among His people, in the flesh, in Jerusalem to proclaim His Word and to promise living water. And because He sent His Holy Spirit at Pentecost, He is here among you by His means of grace. You are delivered from your wilderness of sin. Your thirst is quenched. Your sins are forgiven.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.