THE STREAM OF LIFE
I saw a stream of water coming from the Temple, bringing life to all wherever it flowed. (Ez 47)
The liturgies of Easter and their associated hymns predominate with allusions to water. The waters of primeval chaos, the water of the crossing of the Red Sea, the water from the wounded side of the crucified Lord, and the waters of the Sacrament of Baptism come together in a rich mix of symbolism and spirituality. To this could easily be added Ezekiel’s vision of the waters flowing from the restored Temple in chapter 47, which make for an ever-increasingly wide river of water as they flow towards the Dead Sea, bringing the gift of life to all wherever they flowed.
In a previous vision (chapter 8) Ezekiel had seen the Temple first defiled by idolatry and syncretistic worship, and then as a consequence the building and the city of Jerusalem deserted by the Lord. The Exile was seen by the prophet as due punishment for the people’s sins of infidelity to the God who had brought them out of their first captivity in Egypt. However, in the last nine chapters of his book Ezekiel outlines the rehabilitation of both the people and their religious observances. In a passage (chapter 43) which mirrors the departure, the Lord returns to take possession of his new Temple of holiness and integrity. Once the altar is brought back into use, the stream of water begins to flow with its life-giving properties; a trickle grows mysteriously into a stream, and then into a river too deep to be crossed.
The passion narratives in the gospel emphasise the entry (or the return) of Jesus to Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. Upon the Cross the new altar is consecrated and the new sacrifice initiated. And from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingling down. Not for nothing do the same gospel accounts stress the way in which the risen Lord shows to the disciples his hands and his feet. Not only do the wounds supply evidence of the identity of Jesus – the crucified one – but also, surely, remind the disciples of all ages that from these wounds flows the precious stream, which from endless torments did the world redeem. At the Ascension too, so Wesley’s hymn reminds us, he lifts his hands above, he shows the prints of love.
The devotion of the Church has often turned to those wounds as the sources of the Sacraments, the life-giving and God-given streams of redemption flowing from the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and never better than in Easter do we see Ezekiel’s vision fulfilled. Within thy wounds hide me, we pray, wash me with water flowing from thy side. Or with Mrs. Alexander, even in the joy of Eastertide, we can return to the Lenten hymn which sings: Lift up thy bleeding hand, O Lord, Unseal that cleansing tide: We have no shelter from our sin But in thy wounded side.
Christopher Collins is Vicar of St. Aidan’s, Grangetown in the diocese of Durham.