Year A, John 4
Grace and peace to you indeed as we have come now some distance along the Lenten journey this year, and I do hope and pray it has been so far a good and meaningful journey for you, as we recall over and over again that invitation we heard first read on Ash Wednesday “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditation on God’s holy Word.”
In our three-year lectionary it is interesting and I think very appropriate that for two of those years, Years A and B, these middle weeks of Lent have appointed gospel readings from St. John. So as we are this year in Year A of the cycle last week Phil preached on John 3 and Nicodemus. This morning we have the Woman at the Well. Next Sunday John 9 and the Healing of the Man Born Blind. Then the Fifth Sunday in Lent we conclude the series with John 11 and the Raising of Lazarus.
Each of these really powerful and deep stories for us as places to pause on this road and invitations to go deeper and deeper, until on Palm Sunday we will share the story of the Passion in St. Matthew and come finally on Good Friday in St. John once again to stand at the foot of the Cross. I would invite you to make these stories part of your daily devotions during these weeks. Perhaps just to keep the Sunday service leaflet with you and in the week ahead take a few minutes to read the story again, to let the details settle in and to be suggestive and evocative. Something for a bus ride, or while waiting for your turn in the shower in the morning—or in whatever spaces may open up for you. Each of these readings from St. John framing this part of our journey for us in a pattern of transformation, death and rebirth, the pattern of the baptismal mystery, from Friday to Sunday, with the encounter with Jesus himself always at the center, the critical point of transition.
Often we don’t always know why a writer has written a book. Some simply have a story to tell, I suppose with the hope of receiving a royalty check from the publisher. Others want to promote an agenda, to express a point of view, to persuade. St. John specifically tells us why he wrote his Gospel, at the end of the twentieth chapter, and I think it’s absolutely essential to hear this and to have it before us as we turn to look with care at the particulars of any part or section. So John chapter 20, verses 30 and 31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written” – and here it is—“these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
That you may believe, and that believing, you may have life.
And these are of course the central themes not simply of John’s gospel or of Lent as a season of the Church Year, but of what it means to be a Christian at all. That we enter into a relationship of faith and trust and communion with Jesus, and that through that relationship as we are united in him there is in us and for us and through us a deep healing, a restoration, a renewal of life, confidence, hope.
So also we would turn all the way back to the first chapter of the gospel, as we read it several times in the celebration of Christmas: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world . . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father . . . . And from his fulness have we all received grace upon grace . . . .”
There are so many evocative, deep, and rich moments in the story this morning by that ancient well. The place itself, outside the city of Sychar, or Shechem, where in Genesis 33 Abraham's grandson Jacob bought his first piece of land in Canaan, conjuring up the ancient memory of God’s promises through the patriarchs. “By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”
And there is the conversation about water. The water of the well, the water of the Old Covenant, and the fresh and new and living water in Christ. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
And there is the way Jesus looks into the life of the woman. Our friend the New Testament scholar Dr. Ken Bailey, who has spoken here at St. Andrew’s several times over the years, points out how significant it is that the woman comes to the well at midday and not, with the rest of the women of the village, in the early morning. Perhaps to avoid the finger-pointing and tongue-wagging that she would expect to receive from the others. She would studiously avoid the subject of her own brokenness, but Jesus gets the whole business out on the table. And then the contrast of the shrine of the Samaritans and the Temple in Jerusalem, and the coming hour, when those earthy sanctuaries are swept aside. “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
But we would perhaps just stand with the woman for a few moments this morning, and through this week ahead, and allow Jesus to reflect back to us whatever it is that he would see in us. What we have tried to avoid thinking about or talking about. About ourselves. Because it is only then and there that we come to the turning point of the story. As we are known by him, so he shares himself with us.
The woman says, “When the Messiah comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” And Jesus says to her, in this remarkable and stunning and breathtaking moment, “I am he. The one who is speaking to you” And then something happens in her. And she who so carefully avoided her neighbors suddenly is on fire to connect with them, to tell them what has happened to her. And in a mysterious process that we can’t really see happening from where we are standing, something happens with them too, in them, among them, and the whole of the community is gathered into the Spirit to offer their own confession of faith. A stunning, instantaneous, miraculous transformation. “We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The one who was broken, marginalized, rejected—now she is healed, and in that healing, in communion with Jesus, and through that healing , she becomes the catalyst and agent and evangelist to make possible the transformation in hope of her community. And we would see that grow from there, like the expanding ripples in the pond that follow the dropping of a single stone, in wider and wider circles. Across many miles, many generations.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.