Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Meditation: NEED WASHING? by John de Gruchy


Romans 6:1-4
John 9:1-11
Then I went and washed and received my sight.

A little girl had been shopping with her Mom in Woolies. She must have been 6 years old, this beautiful red haired, freckle faced image of innocence. It was pouring outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout. We all stood there, under the awning, just inside the door of the shop.  We waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature messed up their hurried day.
I am always mesmerized by rainfall. I get lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world.  Memories of running, splashing, so carefree as a child came pouring in as a welcome reprieve from the worries of my day. Her little voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance we were all caught in, 'Mum let's run through the rain,' she said.  'What?' Mum asked. 'Let's run through the rain!' She repeated. 'No, darling, we'll wait until it slows down a bit,' Mum replied. This young child waited a minute and repeated: 'Mum, let's run through the rain.' 'We'll get soaked if we do,' Mum said. 'No, we won't, Mum. That's not what you said this morning, the young girl said as she tugged at her Mum's arm. 'This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?'  'Don't you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said, 'If God can get us through this, He can get us through anything! ' The entire crowd were completely silent. I swear you couldn't hear anything but the rain. We all stood silently. No one left. Mum paused and thought for a moment about what she would say. Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of affirmation in a young child's life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith. 'Darling, you are absolutely right. Let's run through the rain. If GOD let's us get wet, well maybe we just need washing,' Then off they ran. We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and yes, through the puddles. They got soaked. They were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars. And yes, I did.  I ran.  I got wet.  I needed washing.

I first read this story while I was furiously peddling on the exercise bicycle at the gym where Isobel and I go twice a week in preparation for the Mr and Mrs Universe competition for the over seventies.  But it came back to me with new meaning on Easter morning when I went  to the Easter Vigil at St. Peter's Church.  It started at 5.30 long before sunrise and the church was in darkness, but I found a place near the front and discovered that Dee and Allan Powell were sitting next to me in the pew.  The Vigil, which lasts two hours, begins with the lighting of the Paschal Candle, and then from that flame all the candles we were holding were lit.  Eight scripture readings followed, beginning with the creation story and ending with the resurrection of Jesus, the start of the new creation, and then came the sermon.  But before communion, we had to renew our baptismal vows.  That is always challenging because we renounce certain things including the devil and affirm loving others which, of course, includes our enemies! 

Then the priest moves among the congregation with a small leafy branch which he dips in water and then showers everybody in the congregation -- not a few drips here and there but a real heavy sprinkle.  It was like sitting in the rain.  Bill Davis even came prepared in a raincoat!  But Dee and I got drenched, or so it seemed at the time.  And we weren't even standing outside Woolies in the rain.  We were, so we thought, quite out of the range of nature's capricious deeds, holding a lighted candle, and giving the devil the shove within the secure precincts of the sanctuary!  But we all need a good washing from time to time, an occasional run through the rain or an Easter sprinkling in St. Peter's to help us see life differently.  By then our eyes were truly open even though the sun had not yet risen.  Like the man born blind, I had been washed and received my sight.

Easter is traditionally the day in Christian tradition when people are baptised.  They are buried, as St. Paul puts it, into the death of Christ and raised together with him into the newness of life. (Romans 6)  I know how this feels quite literally because once long ago as a teenager finding my way on the Christian journey, and in order to hedge my bets, I decided that being baptised as an infant was not good enough for me, the true born again in the midst of pagans.  I needed to be plunged into a pool like the first believers. Now I am not going to debate the merits of how people should be baptised or when, nor do I disown by baptism as a baby.  Rather, as one of my professors sagely commented when I discussed it with him years later: "Regard your second baptism as a renewal of your first baptism as an infant."  It wasn't a re-baptism, but a renewal of my baptism. And that, for me, is the important thing though I know some who will strongly disagree.  We constantly need to renew our baptismal vows from time to time, to be sprinkled or drenched again as some of us were on Easter day.  Baptism isn't just something that happens way back in the distant past of our lives when the sprinkling of water woke us rudely from slumber, opened our eyes and made us scream!  It is, rather, a way of living in the present.  This is why Catholics sprinkle themselves with water each time they enter a church -- it reminds them of their baptism.  I think that is great symbolism and has much merit. 

But it is not just when we go to church that we need to recall our baptism.  Everyday as we wash our faces every day, or get fully immersed in the shower, we might well do so and remember what it means for the day ahead.  Yes, as the young girl's mother discovered outside Woolies, we all need a good washing from time to time if not everyday.  We need to get rid of the dirt, the bad memories, the ugly deeds, the angry words, the unjust actions, and failure to show compassion and love,  And sometimes, as happens here in our chapel and often in the course of our lives, we need the washing of tears.  For shedding tears, is a baptism into the suffering of Christ and the pain of others and our own.  So take a run out in the rain, wake up and wash your face, or jump in the pool so that you can see again and wake in the newness of the life Christ gives you.

John de Gruchy

Volmoed     24 April 2014

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