If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, whoever believes in me. As the Scripture says, “From his heart will flow rivers of living waters.” (John 7:37-39)
Today is one of the highest and holiest days on our calendar. It’s a day we dare not forget, for if we do, we will forget the one who birthed us, washed us, nurtured and fed us. How dare we forget the womb that birthed us, the breasts that nursed us, the arms that comforted us. Of course, I’m talking about Church, our spiritual mother of our baptismal birth. Pentecost is, in a very real sense, our Mother’s Day, the day of the Church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And of course, happy Mother’s Day to all who are mothers, and thanks be to God for our mothers.
St. Cyprian once said: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” There’s a great deal of truth to that. You always know who the mother is. And the mother will tell you who the father is. The Spirit of God cries out “Abba, Father” and testifies to our spirits that we are the children of God. And the Spirit speaks through the Church by which we were born of water and Spirit in Holy Baptism.
That’s why it’s fitting and proper on this Mother’s Day to recognize that Pentecost is about holy Mother Church. We cringe at that phrase sometimes. Part of it, I suspect, is our residual anti-Catholicism. It sounds just a bit too “Catholic” for our protestantized ears. Holy Mother Church. We have no problems with calling God “Father” (unless, of course, the feminist theologians have invaded our thinking), but we are reticent to realize that we also have a mother in our baptismal birth from above. Drawing on an analogy to Sarah, the wife of Abraham, the apostle Paul calls the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church, “our mother.”
You sometimes hear Pentecost called the “church’s birthday” but there already was a church before Pentecost. It numbered about 120 disciples including Jesus’ mother and brothers. Properly speaking, the Church was “born” on Good Friday, the day that Christ, the second Adam, died on the cross, and in the sleep of His death, a new Eve, the mother of all the living, was fashioned from His side by the water and the blood. As Eve was taken from the side of her sleeping Adam, so the Church was made from the baptismal water and the eucharistic blood that came from the side of Christ on the cross. As Eve was called the mother of all the living, so the Church is the mother that bears all believers in Baptism to eternal life.
John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel what it means to be the children of God: “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, nor of a husband’s will, but born of God.” Not of natural descent – you aren’t naturally born a believer. Nor of human decision – you don’t decide to believe. Nor of a husband’s will – children of God are not conceived in the natural way.
Our small catechism puts it this way in the third article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or senses believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. We believe that we do not naturally believe. Our hearts are naturally dead toward God, dead in sin, hopelessly turned inward, without fear, love, and trust in God. We must be born anew, “virgin born” through water, Word, and Spirit.
Pentecost is not the church’s birthday, but the church’s birthing day, her delivery day. The day that mother Church bears her first children by the preaching of the Word and by Holy Baptism. Three thousand were baptized that day. Three thousand heard the preached Word through Peter and came to the birthing waters of Baptism with the promise that they too would receive the gift of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. And not only them, but also their children. Pentecost is the church’s delivery date, the day she gave birth to three thousand born from above children of the heavenly Father through water and the Spirit.
The day is significant. Pentecost means “fifty.” Fifty days after the Passover came the winter wheat harvest festival. It was the celebration of the first fruits, the first harvest of the year. At the time of Jesus, it was also a day to celebrate the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. These two themes come together – the harvest and the giving of the Word. Fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection comes the first fruits of the harvest, the first believers to believe through the apostolic Word and Baptism. It also comes with all the Sinai-signs – fire and wind. Three thousand people, from among the thousands that were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, heard the Word of Christ preached by the apostles, were baptized by them, and received the Holy Spirit.
In other words, those three thousand came to faith the way we came to faith. Not by walking around with Jesus, as the disciples did. But through the preached Word and through the water of Baptism. That’s why the day of Pentecost is so important in the life of the Church. These are the Church’s first children, of whom you and I are also numbered. And they were born again in the same we are born again, through water and the Word. Whoever has God as his Father has the Church as his Mother.
You don’t bring honor to Father while dishonoring Mother. Like all mothers, the Church is not without sin. But that’s no excuse for despising her or neglecting her. Luther said that we ought to thank God daily for our mothers even if they did nothing else than bear with us for nine months. Without them, we wouldn’t be around. And without the Church, flaws and all, we would not have the gifts of Baptism, the Word, the Supper. The Church is our mother. And we might wish for another, as I once did when I put a sign in the window that read, “Mom for Sale 5 Cents.” Ah, she’s the only we have, and thank God for her. Through Mother Church the Spirit, the Word, the water come to us to birth us to new life.
That brings us to the Gospel text for today. I took the liberty of rearranging the sentences a bit from what you have in front of you. The Greek permits that. Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him drink, the one believes in me.” To thirst is to be dried up and parched. Relief comes from the outside, not the inside. When you’re thirsty, you need seek a source of water and it isn’t in you. To “drink” of Jesus is to trust Him, to take Him at His word, to hear Him, to drink in all of His gifts by faith.
As the Scripture says, “Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water.” The “his” belongs to Jesus, not to you. In the OT, God is the source and fountain of living water. Jesus promised to give the Samaritan woman living water. It isn’t from our hearts that living water flows, but from the heart of Jesus. From our hearts flow murders, adulteries, thefts, false witness, gossip, slander, greed, idolatry – all that is wrong and broken and evil in our lives. The outflow of our hearts is an effluent of sin. Not fresh living water, but raw sewage.
But from the heart of Jesus, pierced for our iniquities by a Roman sword, there flows living water, water mixed with His life’s blood. (John is the one who captures this detail for us.) Jesus is the source, the fountain of that living water that cleanses from sin, that births us with a new and heavenly birth from above, that marks us as a new creation, children of God redeemed by Christ the crucified. Baptismal water is that living water Jesus was speaking, a water that flowed from His wounded heart to you in your Baptism.
John explains that Jesus was speaking about the Spirit that was to come. First Jesus had to die; it is out of His death that life flows. Then, risen and reigning, Jesus breathes out His Spirit, with the signs of fire and wind and languages. And three thousand thirsty sinful souls were quenched with water and the Word. They were baptized. And then there were more, as the three thousand went back to their homes, and the Church spread literally by word of mouth, words from mouths to ears carried along by the Spirit.
And as these last days draw to their close, that stream of living water flows to you – baptized, believing, forgiven, born anew of water and Spirit, born from above of Mother Church, heavenly Jerusalem, our free mother who bears her children in the freedom of Christ.
And so as we give thanks to God on this day for the gift of our mothers who bore us and nurtured us, we give thanks to God for the Church, our spiritual mother, who birthed us in Baptism and nurtured us with the pure spiritual milk of the Word.
Oh day full of grace! Happy Mother’s Day. Blessed Pentecost.
In the name of Jesus,