Psalm 144 is a Passover psalm and no doubt that is why the lectionary uses it at Easter.
It celebrates the physical events from the Exodus out of Egypt and the desert wanderings in a poetic way – the Red Sea looked and ran away, the river Jordan stopped in its tracks, the mountains skipped like goats and the hills jumped like lambs (perhaps a reference to the quakes and storm on Mt Sinai as the law is given to Moses?).
‘Red Sea, Jordan river, mountains and hills, why did this happen?’ the Psalmist asks. And the unspoken answer is that the Lord is Lord of all the Earth and Earth trembles in God’s presence. The Psalmist continues. ‘This is the God who changes rocks into pools of water and solid cliffs into flowing springs.’ This is the God, then, who not only rescued Israel from slavery, but also kept the people alive and sustained them on their journey, that eventually led them to the promised land.
For a people travelling on foot in the desert, the road is from one oasis or water hole to another. If that is not the road it is a dead end, literally. Water is life and its presence is what opens up a road way. To those who dwell in an arid land, to be in a place of abundant water is both gift and blessing.
Jewish and Christian scriptures talk about ‘living water’. Living water is water that has come from a spring or a river or a stream or falling rain – fresh water. It is not there because someone has carried it or stowed it. Living water is water that comes directly, as a gift from God.
I have heard it said that the history of the Tawa settlement parallels the history of Wellington and its transport systems. The first road, the railway first from Johnsonville, then following the Tawa rail tunnels coming directly into the suburb, the motorway north/ south and now the new motorway, all of these have had and will have an impact on this settlement.
But before them all, before Pakeha settlement, there were the old Maori tracks that came up the stream gullies from Whanganui a Tara (Port Nicholson/Wellington Harbour) – the Ngaio, Ngauranga and Korokoro gorges and made their way over the hills to drop down to the valley on the other side. Our valley, with its own stream running through it – the Tawa Stream fed by tributaries from what we call Takapu, Stebbings, Kenepuru, and from a number of other smaller streams running off Colonial Knob- some of them in culverts now, and hidden.
The flood plain of the Tawa stream created flat land all the way to Porirua Harbour. And that made it the obvious route for the Old Porirua Rd that the soldiers built soon after the European settlement of the area began. That was the road that connected the two harbours in the region, the road that was the beginning of a land-based connection between Wellington and further north.
In a fundamental way this stream gave life to our settlement and others. It gave access to Maori and European settlers. It was their trade route, their water supply, a food supply, their playground. A generous stream.
The plan was to do a Tawa banner – so we had to have the stream.
The phrase ‘its waters gave life’ comes from the end of the book of Revelation. The writer has picked up on an old passage from Ezekiel, of a stream flowing out from the temple, getting bigger and deeper as it goes. A stream that brings life, fruitfulness, healing and blessing to all that it touches directly or indirectly. In the book of Revelation, the stream flows from beneath the throne of God and the Lamb (Jesus Christ). The trees that grow alongside it produce leaves for the healing of the nations.
The Easter story is an exodus story. It is about God in Jesus making a way for us out of entrapment and into the freedom of God’s grace and love. Easter is about the healing of you and me, and our neighbours and the nations. Easter is the generosity of God, a stream that gives life.
In John’s gospel there’s a story about Jesus talking to a woman he met at a well. She had had a tough life, been in and out of a fair few relationships. She was a battler and a survivor. They were at the well in the heat of the day and they got talking about water. Jesus said, ‘This well water – everyone who drinks it is going to get thirsty again. But I can give water that will satisfy a person’s deepest thirst, for good. The water I give will become like a spring inside them, bubbling up to eternal life.’ So they’ll not only find that their thirst has been quenched, but the life giving water they have received wells up and spills out of them to refresh others. So they themselves will become life giving water for others.
When you stitch something like this banner, it is not quick, and you have a lot of time to think about things. Those of us who worked on it have been looking at these words for a while, and we have been thinking that ‘giving life’ is pretty much what we are called to do, as Christian people and as a church.
The ancestors of the Jewish people spent their lives learning and relearning to trust their story with God. Our own lives with God involve that same learning and relearning to trust. But being open to receiving new life from God and working away at giving life to others is at the heart of it.