Throughout the Lenten season, the faithful across the world draw their focus inward. We spend time reflecting on the sins and wrongdoings that we have committed, while at the same time, trusting that God in Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross, will offer us forgiveness for those things we can’t imagine being forgiven for, those things we can’t seem to let go of ourselves.
Here at St. James, like many other congregations, we attempt to face the Lenten season as a community, minimizing time spent on our own. At our Wednesday evening church nights, after indulging in homemade breads and soups (and of course, some of the associate pastors’ gourmet mac-n-cheese!), we make our way upstairs from the fellowship hall, to this space for a time of worship.
These mid-week church nights, which we also do throughout the season of Advent as we prepare for the birth of the Christ child, have become one of my favorite things we do here at St. James. Following the model set forth by Jesus and his disciples, we gather around tables for a meal, and then, with the overhead lights dimmed, we worship under candlelight, are filled with the Word of God, and come to the true table, where we are fed with the bread of life.
Our focus for this year’s mid-week worship services centers on the poetic words of lament and praise found within the book of psalms. In our Sunday morning services for this weekend, we hear from Psalm 95, which unlike most other psalms, speaks of two distinct separate actions, both of praise and of warning.
From the mouths of a worshiping community, psalm 95 opens with words of praise and thanksgiving to God for all that God has created and for God’s continued guidance. And then, in an abrupt shift of focus, from the mouth of God, its’ closing words warn of the dangers that come to those who harden their hearts and rebel against God by lifting up the rebellion of Israelites at Meribah found within this weekends reading from the book of Exodus.
Here, from Exodus chapter 17, we read that after fleeing from the slavery of Pharaoh by leadership of Moses, the Israelites find themselves in the desert, with no water to drink. Wondering in the wilderness of Sin, as the text describes, tired and thirsty, the Israelites begin to argue with Moses. As we are all guilty of doing on occasion (some of us more so than others), the Israelites look back to the past, remembering it as far better than it in fact really was. They look to Moses, and they being to question why he brought them out of Egypt in the first place… How quickly they have forgotten.
Few of us, I doubt, would be as patient as Moses. But, as Mosses does, Mosses prays. He pleads with God to provide them with water, and in response, God provides.
As we move into today’s Gospel reading, our attention is drawn to yet another story of thirst, this time on behalf of Jesus, and is one also, that provides for an opportunity for Jesus to shift focus from the thirsting for water, to the thirst that only he can satisfy.
We read that following his journey, tired, Jesus sits by a well. As a Samaritan woman comes to draw water, Jesus asks her for a drink. Shocked that Jesus, a Jew, a member of the faithful, would ask her, a Samaritan woman, a foreigner, to give him a drink, she questions. How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?
It’s probably safe to say, that we could all find ourselves in any one of the stories of this weekend’s readings. We have all found ourselves wondering in the wilderness of Sin like the Israelites at some point in our lives, most likely more often than we care to admit. Those moments when we are blinded by life’s challenges, when we fail to see the blessings that God puts in front of us, when we seek to escape the present by glorifying a not always so glorious past.
And to, we have all found ourselves in the place of the Samaritan women, when our current life situation leaves us feeling less than adequate. When we feel embarrassed of who we are and what we have done to the point where we feel as though we can’t even face Jesus himself. When we let the things of this world define who we are, to hold us back from being what God has created us to be, and from doing what Jesus freed us to do.
As the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman continues, Jesus directs the woman’s attention to the water that will come through him, that which fills with eternal life. In the Greek, the phrase translated in our text as “eternal life”, literally translates into English as “into this age”…. Into this age…
A bit different, and certainly changes our understanding of Jesus’ words. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up into this age… That the water which Christ will give, isn’t just a means to an end, a way to insure the gift of eternal life, but rather something that is to take affect here and now. That affects not only the life to come, but also the life in which we live. It is both future promise, and an immediate transformation.
For us, it’s in baptism that we receive this promise, as we are filled the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Our readings for this weekend lift up some of scriptures most well known examples of people coming to God and Christ overcome by the challenges before them, in need of being filled.
Isn’t it often the case that we too, come to before God empty, hoping to be filled?
In these moments of emptiness, like the Israelites, we look to the past and remember it through a glorified lens, and like the Samaritan women we define ourselves by the opinions of others, and by the mistakes we have made. We view ourselves as insufficient, unworthy, and inadequate… Yet as is was for those in today’s text, so to is it for us as well. In our emptiness we are filled…
It’s with this that we look to the cross. Where our sinful imperfections are made perfect through the death of Christ. Where we are forgiven for all that we have done and left undone. Where we find strength and purpose for our own moments of suffering.
Or as St. Paul writes in our reading from Romans;
…since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand …
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
So we make our way through the season of Lent, and we journey one step closer to the foot of the cross, where interestingly, aside from today’s Gospel reading, we find the only other place in all of scripture where Jesus thirsts…
On Good Friday, as Jesus hangs from the cross, just moments before his death, he looks down upon the world, upon the Sin that lifted him up, and with some of the last bit of energy he could have possibly had left, he says, “I thirst.”
As it is with us, Jesus understood suffering. He understood what it meant to thirst, physically… and emotionally and spiritually as well. I suspect, as he spoke from the cross, his thirst wasn’t simply for water. He understood the thirsting of the Israelites, and that of the woman at the well. And too, he understands our thirsting, whatever it is that we thirst for.
As you make your way through this Lenten season, I pray that you would find comfort in the promise made true in Christ Jesus… the promise of living water. The promise that washes away the earthly distinctions that hold us apart and brings us together as a family of faith here at St. James… that connects us with the faithful around the world… that forgives us for things we cannot, and fills our hearts when nothing of this world can.
I pray that it would raise you up to new life in your moments of suffering, when you are tired from your journey and overcome by thirst. And that renewed and refreshed, it would flow within you freely and burst forth from… that you would be for the world signs of his gracious presence. For the gift of eternal life is not just that of future promise, but of transformation in this age as well.
~Pastor Andrew Geib