BEFORE THE CROSS | Let the river of Christ’s grace flow into our lives

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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"A river happens there."

So says little Diamond, the main character in George MacDonald's classic book "At the Back of the North Wind." Diamond has been visiting heaven in his dreams. When an old friend and tutor asks him: "What happens there?" he gives this cryptic reply: "A river happens there."

MacDonald's thinking and writing were tremendously influential for C.S. Lewis. Not only did Lewis publish a book of reflections and quotations by MacDonald, his fellow author shows up as the main guide in Lewis' book "The Great Divorce." One of the features common to MacDonald's and Lewis' writings is the ability to translate a biblical worldview into fiction that feeds and forms the Christian imagination. So it is with the river that runs through Diamond's visits to heaven: It's a rich image of God's grace.

I mention this for two reasons — and not just to recommend MacDonald's book. First is the Prophet Ezekiel's vision, which we read on Tuesday. Ezekiel sees water flowing out of the temple of the Lord. The temple is a foreshadowing of Christ's body, and the water flowing from its right side — where water and blood will later flow from the pierced side of Christ on the Cross — is a symbol of His grace and its effects on the world. Ezekiel wades through the ever deepening water — ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep — until it becomes a river. The river turns salt water into fresh water, and nourishes trees that bear new fruit each month and whose leaves serve for medicine. The vision is a symbol of what will happen to God's people — and to each of us — when we allow his grace to flow into our lives.

Second is the healing of a lame man at the pool of Bethesda — the third sign that Jesus performs in the Gospel of John — which we also read on Tuesday. Occasionally the water in the pool would have some unexpected turbulence. The idea was that it had been stirred by an angel. The first person into the water afterward would be cured.

This particular man had been ill for 38 years. But every time the water was stirred up someone else would get to it first. Then Jesus came by and healed him instantly. The message is clear: Jesus Himself is the source of living and healing water. He told this to the Samaritan woman in John 4. Now He shows it to this man — and to all of us — in John 5.

The Old Testament reading for Monday tells us that God is doing something new. The Gospels for Monday and Tuesday show that Jesus Himself is the new thing that God is doing. But the readings for the rest of the week show us different ways that people refuse and reject God's grace. They step out of the river, so to speak, or try to dam it up. The caution is clear: Each of us is capable of the same thing. God's grace is continually offered to us. We can accept it or reject it.

The readings this week raise a question for each of us. Can we say, of our lives, what Diamond said of his visits to heaven: "A river happens there?" How will we let the river of Christ's grace flow into our lives this week and become a source of healing for ourselves and others? 

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