Scripture: John 4:5-42
Let us pause for a moment in prayer:
Holy One, you call us into life as your people, bound by water and the spirit to one another. In times of greatest need you fill us with living water that soothes and heals our wounded spirits. We give thanks for the abundance of your love, every moment of our lives, and for every opportunity to experience
the depth of your compassion and grace. May the power of your life-giving spirit heal and free us from prejudice and fear and renew our faith and trust in you. We pray in the name of Jesus, the one who invites us to share in the abundance and fullness of life that you desire for everyone in this world you so love. Amen
Biblically, from beginning to end, water is a symbol for life and God’s liberating and creative action in the development and nurturing of communities of faith. Beginning with Genesis, God’s spirit swept over the waters of creation. Exodus tells the story of the liberation of the Hebrew people as they cross the Red Sea and as they discover water in the rocks of the desert wilderness. Christian testament tells us that Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River; that he offers “living water” to anyone willing to accept his gift; that he washes his disciples feet during their last gathering before his crucifixion; and in the book of Revelation, the author is shown “the river of the water of life… flowing from the throne of God.”
Today’s gospel story about Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, is rich with the imagery of water that not only quenches physical thirst but is also spiritually sustaining. This account only appears in John’s Gospel. That John saw this as an important story is reflected in the detail contained within the story. It is notable also because it is the longest recorded conversation in Christian Scriptures that Jesus has with another individual.
We know that in the 1st century Mediterranean world there was great animosity between Jewish and Samaritan people. What is not commonly known is that they shared a common ancestry. They were from the same people and originally shared the same religious traditions. Due to a variety of historical, social and religious factors these people, who were once closely related, evolved in different ways that caused them to view each other as enemies rather than extended family members.
Jesus, in his life and ministry, intentionally sought to break down barriers of prejudice and hatred between people by offering himself as a bridge. The way he treated the Samaritan woman with respect and as an equal is consistent with how he treated others on the margins of society. Jesus began his interaction with the Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink of water. Jesus was physically thirsty. It was high noon and he had travelled that day. He was sitting beside the well of their ancestor, Jacob, but he did not have any means to retrieve the water that was at the bottom of the well. The Samaritan woman had come to the well to draw water and had the necessary implements. She was well beneath Jesus in social status as a woman, a Samaritan, and an outcast in her own community. Jesus casts all these human constructs aside and spoke to her as an equal — a beloved one in the eyes of God. He tells her that it does not matter where and how you worship God. Jesus tells her that God is spirit and that what matters is that people — wherever they live and whoever they are — worship God in spirit and truth. Jesus invites the woman to drink from the living water of faith that brings a new vitality — new life — to all people everywhere. The Samaritan woman responds to this experience with Jesus by leaving her water jar behind and becoming herself a container for living water that she will share. She goes home and tells anyone who will listen about her experience and invites them to come and see and experience for themselves Jesus’ life-giving presence and message.
This week, as I’ve been reflecting on the amazing and multi-faceted meanings in today’s gospel story, I’ve been thinking about the divisions that have been created over the centuries in the Christian community. Like the Samaritans and Jews, who shared a common ancestry and religious tradition, we share a common religious tradition with Christians everywhere in the world. We worship in different places, with different language and customs, but we are all members of the Body of Christ in the world.
During January each year there is a designated Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In some communities churches gather together for an ecumenical service during that week. This may have been a practice in Kimberley in the past — I don’t know — but in recent years there has not been much overt collaboration between the various churches other than the annual World Day of Prayer service. This year our Catholic neighbours decided it was time not only to pray for Christian Unity but also to take the initiative to encourage inter-church discussions and activities. Father John and members of the Catholic Church put forward an invitation to attend a meeting of representatives of the churches in Kimberley. Five denominations responded with a willingness to identify ways that we can work together and ways that we will continue to work independently. We are early in the process but I can tell you that already there is much enthusiasm and goodwill that has been generated. The Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper was hosted by the Anglican and United Churches and drew attendance from our congregations and members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Throughout Lent and Holy Week there will be opportunities to gather and share in activities and worship as the spirit moves our members. For example, today the Catholic Church is hosting a Lenten Soup and Bun luncheon and on April 6th our church will do the same. As we have in past years, on Palm Sunday, there will be a short ecumenical Blessing of the Palms service in the Platzl. The time, this year, has been changed to 9:00 am to allow members of the Catholic Church, who worship at 9:30 am, to attend. In our Easter newsletter you will notice some Holy Week services listed that are not held in our church but are open and welcome for our members to attend if desired.
I am excited about this spirit of cooperation that has arisen in our community. I don’t know where it will lead but I trust that the living water that Christ offers all of us will strengthen and sustain us on this journey of faith that we share.
With this in mind, I’ll end with prayer:
Source of Life, we are grateful that in the life of Jesus
we discover the gift of living water.
Empower us also to be vessels of living water
in this world you so love.
May our worship and work together
bring us a renewed vision of life together
as Christian community.
With thanksgiving, in the name of Christ, we pray.