Year B, 6th Sunday, Easter
There are visceral and vivid images in this week’s lectionary texts, particularly in the psalm – roaring seas, singing hills, hand-clapping flood waters, trumpets, lyres. And then I John echoes Acts one with the imagery of water and adds the imagery of blood. Why are images important? There are also so many important theological ideas in the texts, major ideas!
- As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love….This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. I do not call you servants any longer,…I have called you friends
- O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
- Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God,…whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
So why focus on the images? And what is the difference between an image and an idea?
An image comes from sensory experience. It is something that we perceive through sight, sound, taste, touch, smell and the muscle memory of the body. Even when we are reading or hearing scripture read an image jumps out at us because it has a connection to the life experience of our bodies. It brings a particular memory that is part of our life story and holds an emotional feeling of some kind. What came to you when you read “Let the sea roar…?” A particular beach scene you know? The smell of the ocean? A time when you experienced stormy or particularly boisterous waves?
What came to you when you read “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood?” What did you see in your minds eye when you read, “water and blood?” What did you feel? Can you trace it back to a particular scene with water and/or blood in your life? It may be a birthing scenario where a baby is delivered in the midst of water and blood from the mother’s womb. It may evoke the story of from John of Jesus’ death when one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.It may be something completely different. Does the image come from a memory? Does it evoke emotions in you?
I heard the echo of old hymns I sang as a child. ”What will wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Here blood washes like water. I can hear the congregation singing with organ and piano accompaniment. It’s a Sunday night service. I feel and see the texture of the hymnbook and there is a faint auditory memory of their smell. I see the back of the pew in front of me because it is head height. In muscle memory feel myself standing beside my mother as we sing. I can hear her voice. My theology of atonement today is mostly likely a bit different from that of Robert Lowry who wrote the hymn in 1876. Yet the words of the hymn still hauntingly inform the image in I John. Having the memory moves me through a paradox of emotions evoked by singing the somewhat disturbing and quite mysterious phrase, “Nothing but the blood…”that washes like water. This is juxtaposed with the sheltering feeling of a loving church community and loving family where I experienced God’s love. The memory connected to the moves me to ask new questions about the theology of being in new life in Christ and dying to an old life. New layers of meaning are allowed to emerge.
This is why I love imagery. Imagery leads us in embodied ways to meaning and reveals the truth embedded there. We are invited into the power of metaphor that fuels our faith with the emotional intelligence of the heart. Just as the historical-critical, sociological and literary analysis of scripture fuels our faith with the knowledge of the mind. And hopefully this combination fuels our actions in world as we build the realm of God here and now.
Blessings as you explore the sacred imagery of the texts this week and beyond,
So where do we find stories of singing hills, clapping floods and roaring seas this week? Stories of water and blood?
There is story from Jewish midrash which ends in all creation singing the great words of God built into the fabric of the world, “Peace, Justice, Mercy and Love.” It is titled, “The Never-Ending Song” and is in a collection of stories for the major festivals of the Jewish year, The Uninvited Guest and Other Jewish Holiday Tales, by Nina Jaffe. You can find it on Amazon. The story tells of the conflict between the smaller creatures of the world and the larger ones. The natural order is out of balance. The large creatures are eating more than their share of the small ones. The small creatures go to consult the greatest creatures of the world, the great bird, Ziz, the beast, Behemoth, and the sea monster, Leviathan. They live together on an island surrounded by angels. The great creatures agree to help and along with the angles they sing out the powerful words of God thereby teaching the large creatures of the world to live in harmony and balance with the small ones.
I found a story with the imagery of blood and sacrifice in Wisdom Tales from Around the World, by Heather Forest. The story is “How the Quetzel Got its Red Breast.” The quetzel is a rain forest bird with brilliant plumage that is sacred to the Mayan tradition. When Spanish conquistadors come to conquer Mayan lands the bird is caught up in the battle and its breast is stained with blood. You can find a brief telling of the story at https://folktalesandstorytelling.wikispaces.com/How+the+Quetzal+Got+Its+Red+Breast .
Heather Forest writes about her retelling of the tale at the website below:
Finally, there is a Grimm’s fairy tale from the German tradition that tells of the search of three princes for the water of life to cure their dying father, the King. The plot moves through adventure, betrayal and finally the revelation of truth as each of the brothers make the attempt to find the water. You can read a long version of the tale at http://www.grimmstories.com/en/grimm_fairy-tales/the_water_of_life .
And a short synopsis at http://shortstoriesshort.com/story/the-water-of-life/.
© Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Reprinting of text or photos by permission only.