Living water

I’ve been away enjoying my post-Christmas break, visiting friends and family, and so this is a shorter blog than usual – and you may be pleased about that.

I had joined the congregation at Holy Trinity, Northampton for the Feast of the Epiphany where a former college friend, Fr Anthony McGowan, is the parish priest. It was great to be with the people there for the celebration and then to return to the Cathedral for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ. This, the second ‘epiphany’ event, is the occasion when we join with our neighbouring parish, St Magnus the Martyr, for the blessing of the river.

London Bridge as it once was.

London Bridge as it once was.

Since the building of the first London Bridge, we and St Magnus’ have had the care of the bridge community. The parish boundary is in the middle of the bridge and so in the middle of the river. The mediaeval old bridge, built by Peter de Colechurch, was a place on which people lived and traded and worshipped. So some of our parishioners lived on the bridge over the river.

More recently, we decided to mark our relationship with the bridge and the river by asking God’s blessing on the river and on those who work on it and use it by gathering on the bridge on this feast day when we remember Jesus being made known in the waters of the Jordan. When he came out of the waters the voice was heard from heaven testifying to his true nature. “This is my Son’ records St Matthew and the Spirit descends like a dove. So the baptism is a picture of the life of the Holy Trinity, a powerful moment of theophany, of epiphany, of the manifestation of Christ and the manifestation of the nature of the Living God in the living waters.

The bishops of Southwark and Fulham throw a cross into the river

The bishops of Southwark and Fulham throw a cross into the river

St Ephrem the Syrian (died 373) in one of his hymns speaks of the Spirit and the Water

See, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore you!
See, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized!
Fire and Spirit in our Baptism;
In the Bread and the Cup, Fire and Holy Spirit!

The Fire and the Spirit in the baptism is a powerful image and as we gathered on the bridge we were conscious that this year we have all been and remain deeply aware that water is powerful and as well as being good can have devastating consequences. In the prayers on the bridge we remembered those suffering from the floods upstream and the devastation that has been caused in so many communities because of recent flooding. Water is a blessing but it can be dangerous – we live alongside it with respect. But the Living God enters the living waters with fire and the Spirit and brings us through into new baptismal life as he will pass through the deep waters of death to bring us to new life.

The procession returns to the Cathedral

The procession returns to the Cathedral

It was good to be part of this event today, with so many gathered on the bridge, above the waters. May the blessing of the Living God rest not just on the waters of the river but upon all of us in this new year who have been redeemed by water and blood, by Fire and Spirit.

Heavenly Father,
at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognize him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.

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