I am always taken aback when I send Christmas greetings to my friends in Lumsden Parish, South Island, New Zealand. Their Christmas letter describes the service with the fresh flowers, and the picnic outside in the parish gardens after Christmas Day Eucharist.
They have written their own Christmas Carols, because “In the Bleak Midwinter” just doesn’t resonate with them.
Easter is likewise a little strange. While we are anticipating the first buds and celebrating chicks and baby ducks and lambs, they are at harvest season and the millions of lambs NZ raises every year are being packed off for slaughter. They have had to develop their own approach to the message of new life.
Our physical environment cannot be separated easily from our religious tradition. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are religions of the desert. And in the desert, the limiting factor for life is fresh water. It is very simple…no water, no plant life, no animal life, no human life. If the rains do not come, the only hope is to be next to a stream or spring.
Both the reading from Jeremiah and the psalm reflect this reality. Water is as essential to survival as the love of God is to life itself. In a simple system like the desert, the parallel is straightforward. Without water, there is no life; without God, there is no meaningful existence.
The Prophet Jeremiah says: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and it shall stay green; in the year of the drought it is not anxious and does not cease to bear fruit.”
From the psalm: “ 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.”
We have known drought in the last few years here in Montana, and although it is not life threatening, it makes us uneasy. We know that water is essential to life.
We have also experienced drought of the spirit in our life as the Episcopal Church in Montana. The robust exchange of resources, encouragement, and pastoral care that takes place in a healthy Diocese has not been ours to enjoy for years now. We have gathered around the small springs and oases that we know, and survived. No matter what your take on the causes of our drought, we are in rationing mode….praying for the gentle rains and healing water to flow over us.
In Luke’s Gospel, we hear a version of the story called the “Sermon on the Mount’ in other gospels. (In Luke, it seems to be the Sermon on the Flat Place.) No matter – the Beatitudes are among the most loved parts of the NT scriptures. They appear on quilts, tablecloths, samplers, wall hangings, banners…you name it. If the precise citations from the scriptures were better known, you might even watch the Super Bowl or play-off games and see “Luke 6:17-26” or “Matthew 5: 1-12” on placards in the stands.
So, what do the Beatitudes have to say to us who are gathered around the oasis of St. Stephen’s, praying for refreshment and nourishment. Are they one of those “the Kingdom of God is like…..a shepherd, a woman who finds a lost coin, a prodigal son”….pronouncements ? Are they a statement of things yet to come…of blessings that will someday be showered on those who mourn, who hunger, who are poor…?
I would suggest that we are, here and now, both the blessed and those doing the blessing. However we, in Christian community, recognize and reach out to each other when we are grieving, hungry, poor in spirit or resources, discouraged or distraught, makes us people of the Beatitudes. We continually draw water from our well to serve those around us, and look for signs of thirst or drought in the people we share this place with, as well as those who walk by our door.
The blessing of the poor, the hungry, the distraught,
to each of us,
from each of us,
because we have been planted, by God’s hand,
where our roots can reach water, even in the time of drought.
By God’s mercy, we have water to sustain life, to share, and to bless others.
Thanks be to God.