Martin Luther encouraged the preachers of his time that the best they could hope to do in opening the Word of God to God’s people would be to constantly remind their hearers of the worth of their baptism, of what that sacrament had worked in each of them. Though the water poured over each of us as we are baptized, whether as infants or adults, soon dries, the living water born within us at our rebirth continues to spring up within us for life.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman he met at the Jacob’s well together teach this lesson. The evangelist John provides us a dialogue between these two strange conversation-mates. It is a dialogue that – like the best of conversations – reveals who the speakers are, discloses what are their deepest hopes, and opens new truths that carry the dialogue-partners (and we the listeners) to a new place of insight and possibility.
As John 4 is read, you and I are present as unseen partners in the conversation. We are there too at Jacob’s Well. We come with our own thirsts. We have our own thoughts about what we hear from Jesus and the woman. Perhaps we follow her with curiosity back into town as she walks away without the bucket to draw water that she thought so valuable from her prior experience as she first arrived by the well that noonday. Perhaps we remain with Jesus as his disciples arrive back, confused at the end of the conversation as they hear it, disturbed that it took place at all, filled with bewilderment as Jesus speaks of the food he had even before they arrived.
In a few lines Jesus leads his companion in conversation from misperception to sharp perception, from misunderstanding to understanding, from a clouded vision of her own life – both its worth and its misfortunes – to a moment of insight such as she never knew before. It is a moment that sends her running in exaltation back to town, to invite others to experience the same. As unlikely a person to quote here as Malcolm Forbes said, “The best vision is insight.” As she left the well, that unnamed woman was seeing in a new way.
She was seeing herself in a new way. She was about to see her fellow townspeople in a new way as she encountered them, and had to shout out her news. She was seeing her personal history in a new way; knowing that none of the men with whom she had shared her life had actually been a genuine partner to her, and knowing that despite all that history, new water could and did now flow from within her heart and make her to be something and someone new.
She would be a new worshipper – in spirit and in truth. She would be a new believer – one who had met the Christ face to face. She would be a new evangelist – sharing the story with any who would listen, and likely chasing those who thought they would not care to listen. In short, she was newly alive, as alive as a person rescued from the desert becomes when water is poured into them in time and they are restored; as alive as an infant or an adult who has just come up from the waters of baptism.
We all have thirsts. Each of us has somehow stood with Moses in the middle of the desert, standing in front of a dry rock from which he intends to bring forth water. Many of us have ridiculed the possibility that water can rush forth into our existence anew, from the dry rock of the lives and the history we have assembled through the years.
But perhaps in our own pursuit of water, we may find ourselves in the noon of life standing by a well, with a bucket, and looking into the face of One whom we finally recognize as the source of life and new life; of nourishment and possibility. We might see in his eyes, there in the brightest light of day, that though we feel weak, he brings us strength; though we fear to die, he is willing to die for us; though we have given up hope, he inspires in us a new certainty that “hope does not disappoint.”
We do not know the name of the woman who met Jesus and talked with him at the well that day. This is just as well. She might carry the name of any one of us, or of us all. She is the patron saint of we worn-out, dusty, hopeless, disquieted, thirsty human beings. She is the emblem of what comes to be when we confess our thirst in the presence of the Source of living water.
– Editorial for the April issue of the Dominion, monthly of the Diocese of Long Island –
As the Dominion goes to print, all of us all over the world throughout the past several days have been both transfixed and horrified by the news, the images, and the video coming forth from the scenes of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The world is in prayer for the Japanese people; praying for the wounded, praying for the lost, praying for the dead, praying for those who grieve, praying for those many whose lives will never be the same. The world is coming to the aid of the Japanese people. Help is arriving in every possible way from every possible source, including Episcopal Relief and Development. Food, water, medicine, and technical advice as to how to deal with errant nuclear reactors: all this and more the world is sending to its brothers and sisters in Japan.
The Japanese are a people with a long tradition of reflection, introspection, and shared folk wisdom. One old Japanese saying reads this way: “We are no more than candles burning in the wind.” Very few events in a lifetime can reveal the truth of those words, as do the recent 9.0 earthquake and the following tsunami. And yet, those words are true at all times, all over this earth, and at every moment.
Perhaps as we here in the United States struggle to take in the fullness of the recent events in Japan, both the natural disaster and the following human response might move us also to reflection. We belong to one another. We mirror one another in our vulnerable humanity. We are responsible to and for one another. It seems that in times when we feel strong, unthreatened by horrors such as those the Japanese have unexpectedly suffered, we can forget those truths. We can, and we do, allow the things that divide us to overshadow and obscure the many more important things that unite us.
For we who are disciples of the Christ, in peacetime or in war, in joy or in sorrow, in times of abundance or in seasons of scarcity, we are called to allow daily the words of Jesus to echo in our hearts and to be reflected in the words we speak and in the deeds of our hands, in our politics and in our financial doings: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
A further bit of Japanese wisdom says, “Bad and good are intertwined like rope.” So it has always been, and so it will always be as long as this planet continues to turn. May whatever good, intertwined with the pain of these days, be swiftly revealed for the people of Japan. May we, in the name of Christ, continue to respond with generosity and love.
The season of Lent begins this year on Ash Wednesday, March 9. Depending on our family and faith backgrounds, we carry a variety of memories of Lents past: fasting from foods or favorite pursuits, giving up something for the season, undertaking a time of intensified prayer, reaching out in charity to those in need, and more. But the origins of the season reach all the way back to the fourth century. These forty days were the time of final preparation for those about to be baptized into Christ at the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. Their period of prayer and learning was also a time for the entire community of the church to recall once more the reality and the power of baptism.
Beginning with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, Lent invites us into a season of renewal that commences with repentance. Leaving the past of sin behind and reclaiming the renewing power of Baptism, the church itself stands forth again, repentant and proclaiming its dependence on God, as the community of those who choose to live life in company with Christ, sharing both his dying and his rising to life.
As members of Christ’s Body it is instructive to hear the voices of Lent stretching back over the centuries. In 1687 the Bishop of Bath and Wells in England wrote a pastoral letter for this season to the clergy of his diocese. Urging them to penance, prayer, and the reading of Scripture, he wrote in part: “The first sacred Council of Nice, for which the Christian world has always had a great and just veneration, ordains a Provincial Synod to be held before Lent, that all Dissensions being taken away a pure oblation might be offerÍd up to God, namely of Prayers and Fasting and Alms, and Tears, which might produce a comfortable Communion at the following Easter: and that in this Diocese, we may in some degree imitate so Primitive a practice, I exhort you to endeavour all you can, to reconcile differences, to reduce those that go astray, [and] to promote universal Charity towards all that dissent from you . . . .” Similar resources to learn and keep the season can be found online. One such website is www.anglicansonline.org/special/lent.html
Following a decades-long tradition, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has commissioned a book for Lent. The Lenten book for 2011 is written by Stephen Cherry, a canon of Durham Cathedral, and is entitled Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility. Cherry’s words may provide to parish reading groups another entry into the spirit of the season.
The celebrant of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, according to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, recalls the origins and intent of the season and then invites those present “in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent . . ..” The season opening next week invites Christians to live the passover mystery of life and death in the company of Jesus who gave himself to death for the sake of life.
Published in The Dominion, monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Long Island, March 2011