Troubled Waters

Rev. Laura Merrill

Over and over recently, the image of troubled waters has come to my mind. The term evokes for me everything from the classic Simon and Garfunkel song to gospel stories of Jesus and his disciples on a boat in a storm on the lake. Water in the Bible can symbolize chaos or deep power, beyond human control. It can also be a place of passage into freedom, such as the Jordan River or the Red Sea.

In John 5, the pool at Beth-zatha (known also as Bethesda) was a place of healing. The people believed that when the water was troubled, it held special healing power. Folk would wait by the side of the pool for the water to be disturbed, and the first one in would get the healing. There’s some speculation about what was really going on in the pool. A late addition to the scripture said an angel would come and disturb the water. Others have proposed that it was the rhythm of a natural spring.

Especially in the moment we are living as a nation, the thought of water being stirred up as a sign of healing is powerful. Deep power, moving, with room for us to enter and cross over is frightening and inviting all at once. I think of courageous, enslaved Black people who decided to risk their lives for the sake of freedom, escaping their slavery and claiming the life they knew God intended for them. They knew, as I hope we might also trust, that the God who is troubling the waters is the same God who has promised to lead us through the water. We have trouble aplenty, to be sure, and the waters in this moment are roiled and frightening. But our God is able, and the cause of moving into freedom for all of God’s people is just. So may we sing with the brave ones of the past:

Wade in the water Wade in the water, children Wade in the water God’s gonna trouble the water

Take heart and courage today in the life of those who have crossed through these waters before us and in the power of our gracious God.