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written by Constance Morgenstern

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Study for "How Simple is the Washing"

A shining ribbon of water. 

Where I worship, a baptism starts with that.  The pastor pours that shining ribbon as he speaks of water’s significance.  You can see the light dance off the silvery, vertical stream, and you can hear the clean, beautiful sound of the water filling the font.

We are washed by water that comes from on high.  Our life continues because of water that comes from on high.  Waters of life.  Gifts of God.

Now people (and denominations) have differed about how baptism is to be done, but I think God intentionally keeps it simple.  Most of the work of any washing depends on the water, and I think the same thing is true of our salvation: Most of the work is done by Jesus Christ.  We just choose to seek the cleanliness that is made available.  We can come with a childlike trusting in God’s work (Matthew 19:13-15).

There is a story in the Old Testament about a (foreign) leper named Naaman who wants to be healed (2 Kings 5:1-14). He travels to Israel, where Elisha the prophet tells him to wash himself seven times in the river Jordan.  For various reasons, Naaman is angry and doesn’t do it—until someone tells him that if something more difficult were required, he surely would have tried to follow through.  Why not do the simple thing?  Eventually, Naaman does wash himself in the Jordan seven times, and he is healed. 

In the New Testament, Christ seems to keep things simple as well: “Believe and be baptized,” is one version (Mark 16:16).  Or, consider John 3:5 where Christ tells Nicodemus that a man must be born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.  Baptism and Belief.

Belief relates to the “Living Water" in Verse 2 of the hymn.

We find the term “Living Water” in the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:4-30).   Jesus asks for a drink from a Samaritan woman who is drawing water, and an interesting conversation ensues.  There is a Living Water she should seek, Christ says, whose drinking means she would never thirst again.  Of course, the woman is intrigued by the thought of not having to walk for, draw up, and haul water home so often—but what catches her attention even more is when Jesus proceeds to tell her details of her own life, though they have just met.  “Could this be the Christ?” she wonders, as she tells her neighbors about it afterwards.

Later for us in the book of John (John 7:37-39), the Living Water is identified as the Holy Spirit.  Now the Holy Spirit isn’t easy to describe.  The image of Living Water is more tangible.

There is related water imagery in the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.  Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes water flowing out from all sides of the temple of God.  The vast quantities of new water flowing into the (very salty) Dead Sea make it fresh enough that aquatic creatures can thrive.  And fruit trees will grow on the banks of the river, never withering.  And they will bear fruit every month, and their leaves will have healing properties.  (See also Revelation 22:1-2 and17.)

Through these descriptions we learn something of Living Water’s abundance, enduring sustenance, and productivity.  Praise God for the enduring gift of the Spirit!  (John 3:6)  It becomes in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

The Bible reference for Verse 3 of the hymn is mainly Matthew 22:1-14.  In this Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Jesus tells us how the kingdom of heaven is like a man who gave a wedding banquet for his son, and sent servants out to bring those who had been previously invited.  But the invitees made excuses—too many other things to do—so the man told his servant to go into the streets and bring anyone as a guest, good or bad.  However, the guests needed to have proper wedding attire to be acceptable. 

The idea that righteousness can cover us, like clothing, to make us acceptable in God’s presence is found in other places in the Bible (Isaiah 61:10, Zechariah 3:4, Revelation 3:4-5, and Revelation 7:9-17 especially verse 14). Also, there are many references to Christ being like a bridegroom, both on earth and in heaven (Matthew 25:1-13, Matthew 9:14-15, John 3:27-30, Revelation 19:6-9, and Revelation 21).  Revelation 19 particularly tells how the people in heaven have had their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (Christ) to be made pure white, that is, acceptable.

Now I’ve been to a number of weddings in my life.  If you have, too, you may have had the experience of walking in and not immediately finding familiar faces, since weddings bring together so many people from different families and towns.

You might even feel a bit misplaced—until you spy the bride or bridegroom, your reason for being there.  When they greet you, suddenly, you feel legitimate!

I imagine that the heavenly banquet might start out with a similar bit of uncertainty, especially for the people invited in off the streets!  Maybe they question what they’re doing there, clearly out of their league.  But oh—there’s someone we know—the Bridegroom!  Yes, we are his friend. (John 15:15)    He spies us in the crowd and strides forward, arms held out in welcome.

But that’s when it gets even better!!!  Because of our relationship with Christ through the abiding Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15-17, Galatians 3:26-29) we are not just a random village guest, or even a friend of a gracious groom.  Our hearts near burst in joy as we realize that, somehow, we are family, and that this is exactly where we belong.  Praise God for such love, such mercy!


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