The 6th Sunday of Easter gives the preacher an alternative gospel reading. I was delighted to see the less-frequently-used John 5:1-9. This is the scripture that the old spiritual “Wade in the Water” was based on. What many don’t know is that the meaning of the song has been misunderstood. It is frequently interpreted as a call to the runaway slaves to take to the waters to avoid being chased by the hounds. Until recently, it was believed to be a call to action. So how do we now know the interpretation is wrong? New scholarship of the old texts.
Because in contemporary scripture, a verse is missing. A verse that today is believed to have been inserted long after the scripture was originally written. But a verse that was present in the scripture ultimately learned by the slaves as they came to adopt the Master’s religion. Although now obscure, the verse would have been well known those out of whom the words became a spiritual that would instill hope. This was a story that was very important to them.
So what is the missing verse?
5:3 In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed.
“and they waited for the moving of the waters.
5:4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.”
It was not a call to take to the water as a runaway. This scripture was an anthem of faith and hope that this God they came to worship had come among them and provided opportunities for healing and hope. This God that would stir things up, heal the sick, conquer death and offer an ongoing source of hope was one they sang to each other to sustain them in the misery that was their lives.
So at this point you might be asking, what does all this have to do with the 6th Sunday of Easter? The answer lies in the collective scriptures, especially from Revelations and John, we have heard over the past several weeks.
In Revelations, John is sharing a vision as to the coming of God’s Kingdom. Remember last week’s reassurances: He will wipe every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. We will be his people and He will be our God. And this week’s promises of a place which is bathed in the light of God, where the darkness will be no more. And the powerful understanding that there will be no need for a Temple in the coming of God’s Kingdom. God will not be apart. God will be with us and in us and around us.
In the previous and coming Gospel readings, Jesus is preparing the disciples for the coming time in which he will no longer be with them. We are given images of the ongoing presence of God and Jesus as experienced through the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows there will be a period of turmoil and danger to come. He is reassuring the disciples that even in the challenges, God will not desert them and will provide the means through which they can begin the work to come, which we will remember in 2 weeks on Pentecost.
What most of us don’t understand is that our experience of Christianity and our freedom of worship and choice are not present everywhere in the world. There are places in this world where it is dangerous to be a Christian; places where the faithful take their lives in their hands every time they gather to worship. Just watch the news! It is happening now. Churches are bombed, leaders are killed. All for a devotion to their faith.
And what about those who have never heard the story of Jesus, have never heard that there is a creator that loves them and wants them to be healed? Is that not why we are preparing for Holy Conversations? To bring the Word to those straining for just a slight whisper of hope?
What this season’s scripture passages ask of us is this: are these words of faith, healing and radical justice as precious and life-giving to us today as they were to the slaves of 19th century America or as they are today to those who are persecuted for their faith?
If we cannot answer yes to this question, then our discipleship is incomplete. There are so many in our world who are empty, desperately seeking meaning, hungry for a new vision, which will sustain and uplift them. We, on the other hand, go easily about our lives without much effort or thought given to our beliefs or worship.
The season of Easter each year invites us to remember the story, to remember the sacrifice and to remember the ultimate victory. It invites us once again into an intimate exploration of the incarnation and the ways in which we, as disciples, insure it is ongoing. God, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, is with us. Sharing this news is integral to our lived discipleship. May we remember that WE are the ongoing Body of Christ and offer ourselves as instruments of Hope and Life and Love.