Sunday, March 15, 2020
Third Sunday in Lent, Year A
Prayer of the Day
Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Exodus 17:1-7 Water from the rock in the wilderness
Romans 5:1-11 Reconciled to God by Christ’s death
John 4:5-42 Jesus encounters the woman at the well
Title: Filled and Forgiven in Christ
She is the patron saint of deprivation. Of all the people that Jesus is recorded to have encountered, perhaps she is the most deprived. (Well, counting the living people. Obviously, the dead folks, like Lazarus who we will meet again in two weeks, could be seen as deprived of everything even life itself.) But of the living ones, this woman at the well is truly the most deprived.
First and foremost, she is deprived of a name. We only know her by the place where Jesus meets her. The woman at the well. Interesting. In some ways it is quite an honor to be known forever by where Jesus meets her. What if we all had labels like that – where Jesus meets us. We would be known as the child at the font, the girl at the table, the boy at his coming out, the man at rock bottom, the woman in her grief. How would you be labeled?
This nameless woman at the well is also deprived of community – she is a fringe dweller. She is a reject. She is the one that everyone points at, moves to the other side of the street from, gossips about in the market, judges when they need to feel better about themselves, condemns when they are on their knees in prayer. She is so disconnected from the community, that she must come to well in the blazing heat of the midday. All the other women had been there early in the morning, in the cool of the day. They had drawn the water they would need for the day. They had taken time to visit, to chat, to gossip (most likely about this woman who is encountering Jesus later in the day). Now they were home and not suffering the heat of the day. But it is finally safe for her, that woman, to come and get water, to avoid the stares and the glares, the hiss and the spit, the names and the shames. “She has her men.” The others sneer. But she doesn’t have her community.
Yes, she indeed has men, but she doesn’t have a partner, a friend. She doesn’t have a relationship that gives her encouragement and joy. She doesn’t have the commitment that people make to one another in friendships, partnerships, marriages, and families. She doesn’t even have a business partner. Sometimes the one who is most lonely is the one who feels alone even when with others. Most likely, that describes our patron saint of deprivation, who is with men, but yet feels so lonely.
In her time, being a woman without a committed man in her life means that she is also deprived of status. In her patriarchal society, status flowed through the man. When a woman became widowed, her status was grounded in her son or son-in-law. So many of the women that Jesus encounters, that he gives status to through his words and deeds, are women who for one reason or another have no status in society’s eyes. The widow of Nain, the hemorrhaging woman, the woman about to be stoned, to name a few. The woman at the well is one more in a long list of status deprived women.
In her profound depravation, this woman is completely isolated. Are you like me? Are you hearing this story with new ears this year? Perhaps you too are connecting on a deeper level, with a more empathic spirit in these days of isolation and self-quarantine. Of course, the big difference, we are together even in our isolation. As witnessed in the folks singing together from their individual windows in Italy and those with us today through the wonder of live streaming.
But this woman is isolated in her isolation. She is the only one. It is not about self-care and prevention. It is about all the judgement and condemnation that a society can hurl at one of its own. Maybe there are other places, beyond coronavirus isolation that we feel this story of deprivation and isolation – A woman in a male dominated workplace, A victim of abuse or rape who feels there is no place to go, no one to turn to. Someone growing into a self-awareness that is outside the heteronormative of their small world. A trans person who experiences mocking, discrimination, and violence. A person of color trying to build a life in a world of white supremacy. A homeless person who watches the privileged zip by without being noticed. Who do you think of when you think of modern-day isolated ones? Is this experience of isolation opening our hearts to them a little more?
And then of course there is the ultimate deprivation and isolation that we all share as humans. The deprivation and isolation that is our focus each Lenten season. The deprivation and isolation that sin attempts to create, trying to separate us from the God who created us, who loves us, and who sustains us. But God in Christ Jesus breaks through our deprivation and isolation providing for us and reconciling us.
“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This year’s Lenten journey through the Lord’s prayer brings us to these two petitions at a perfect time. Just as we need to hear them, just as we hunger for their assurance, just as we long for their peace.
Even in the midst of the great deprivation that is this woman’s life, that is ours in our sinful self; our God of abundance breaks through and sets a banqueting table in which God is our nourishment, the presence of Christ is our rich bounty, the Spirit is our sustenance. Christ calls himself the bread of life for good reason. And he does not fail us. He is our daily bread that fills us like no other bread can. We feast on his presence, we are strengthened by his joy, we are nourished with his hope, we are satisfied by his peace. Give us this day. In Christ we see that God gives.
And forgive us our trespasses. And God in Christ does. The isolation that sin causes, separating us from God and one another, is dispelled by the grace and mercy of God that is ours in Christ. Jesus the Christ, the one who forgives even his enemies, his betrayers, his failing friends, his executioners. Christ does indeed forgive us our sins, even those so deep within us that we do not know enough to confess them. And with this, he gives us both the model and the power to forgive one another. Not only is our isolation from God eliminated through Christ, but also the isolation that we create between one another. Through Christ we are reconciled to God and to one another.
And the woman at the well is again our image of renewal. For the one who has been so ostracized by her community, the outcast, the one beyond the fringe; having encountered Christ – who knows everything she has ever done and yet still befriends her – causes her to risk it all and reconnect with her community. And now Christ is known amongst all in the community in that act of reconciliation as many come to believe in him because of her testimony.
Bread and forgiveness. Sustenance and reconciliation. We’ve prayed it so many times. Seems so basic. And it is. They are the basics of our life in Christ. We are filled so that we might live. We are forgiven and forgive so that we might live. We receive and give by the power of the Holy Spirit, because Christ gives and forgives us through the grace of God that breaks through all our deprivation and isolation. So, take and eat. We are forgiven to forgive. We are fulfilled and freed, in the name of Jesus the Christ.
The Rev. Mark Erson,