Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Eternal God, give us insight to discern your will for us, to give up what harms us, and to seek the perfection we are promised in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us heartily rejoice in the rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving
and be glad in him with psalms.
3 For the Lord is a great God
and a great king above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth
and the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands have moulded the dry land.
6 Come, let us worship and bow down
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7 For he is our God;
we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
8 O that today you would listen to his voice:
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, on that day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 When your forebears tested me, and put me to the proof,
though they had seen my works.
10 ‘Forty years long I detested that generation and said,
“This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways.”
11 ‘So I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter into my rest.” ’
Therefore, 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 we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 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.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
Address on Lent Three
We have just reflected on healthy water, running water that is safe to drink.
“Living water” is what the Greek says in our gospel reading – “Living water” is a strange phrase, isn’t it? What do you think it means? You probably think that it means “the water of life”, some sort of elixir, like what Pons de Leon was looking for as he explored Florida. After all, “the water of life” is the theme of this week’s worship, so your expectations have already been set. They are related phrases, aren’t they?
So just what does the original Greek phrase, “living water”, mean? A long time ago, my teacher took a look at this phrase and relayed what it meant in another context. In the text he was working through with us, “living water” had to do with the water that was used for baptism. In this phrase, living is a verb used as an adjective to modify water, like the word ‘burning’ in the phrase, “burning flame”. In this case the word living is related to the word that is used for life, when Jesus asks us to step up to life in all its fullness.
In the text that my teacher was explaining, the water used for baptism should be running water, like that of a stream or a river – in other words, we are asked to use running water so we can re-capture the archetypal baptism of Jesus which took place in the River Jordan. There the water buffeted John and Jesus as they stood in that flowing river. The water was swirling about, taking all that was not firmly rooted with it. Imagine the scene, John and Jesus facing each other, their garments billowing about them, the coldness of the mountain streams attacking their legs. Perhaps they rocked about because the current was so strong pressing ’round about them. Everything is being taken away that is not essentially part of them, and John baptises Jesus in the perfect baptism.
We have all stood in brooks, haven’t we? You remember the water streaming all around your boots, pressing on your ankles. You felt the coolness of the water through all the layers of leather, rubber and wool – eventually. We experience this water as what they call “elemental”, don’t we? Like the wind, this running water has its own force and makes us wonder at our place in the universe. I think this is why the early church said that the best water for baptism is this running water. This is water in the outside world where we don’t really control it.
The water all around us nowadays shows us its power, doesn’t it? For the past six months we have seen the strength of water in our lives. We cannot stop the rivers rising and overflowing, even though we have spent millions on flood defences. The rivers have breached walls in so many places in the last twelve months.
Water can even enter our houses, if it really wants to. Water seeps in and invades our lives. We are helpless as we face its power. We know the strength of water whether in violent storms or in the steady trickle of a leaking pipe. Water can uproot just about anything, given time. Haven’t we all seen pictures of trees racing downstream on flood-water? On the banks of the Severn we should be very much aware of the power of living water as it races past us usually to empty itself into the chaotic waters of the sea.
This is water in its rawest form, its most elemental, calling into question everything we think permanent and important. Violent storm-water can make us question our very existence. The floods of the past months conjure this vision up for us. These doubts welling up in our hearts make us wonder fundamentally, don’t they?
We have all heard the phrase “waters of chaos”, haven’t we? – Metaphorically, they characterise the undifferentiated state of being before anything comes into existence. Water plays a part in all creation myths, in particular the ancient Hebrew creation story “In the beginning…”. The middle east is rife with them. In all of them, the first waters are the whence from which life is drawn. We can understand this, can’t we? especially when we think of the minor floods we have experienced in this country when compared with the flood upon which Noah floated in his ark – even though we feel we should have been as prepared as Noah for the storms which tossed him. Even the scientists today speak of the primordial watery world and the mud from which all life rose.
Such is the destructive power of the flood, but also the life-giving power of water when it flows in a regulated way – when we understand where and how water flows, life is granted. This safe water is “living water” for it allows for cleansing and use at the heart of our lives.
We should bear this in mind now, when we think of baptism in Lent, for we are purging ourselves through our fast, aren’t we? And our baptism candidates are preparing themselves for their great journey. The cleansing of the living water of baptism should take everything that is not our very own away. The waters of chaos leave us with our ownmost possibility, our own lives – nothing more, nothing less – after all, what else is there except our individual existence, that real life which we have been given.
Out of the chaos of the flood, we find our lives. When we find ourselves tossed out of the flood to lie on the bank by that living water, we can take it in. We can now dip our cup to overflowing and receive the bounty it offers.
But what an event leads up to that realisation! – We have survived the battle with the waves. We have perhaps swallowed too much, and are overwhelmed for a bit. We are exhausted because of our exertions in the chaos of our lives up to this point. We may be ready to close our eyes to sleep finally. There are some who succumb to that temptation, not struggle against exhaustion, to remain in that undifferentiated mass without consciousness, nor with a conscience. There are, however, some who stand up and alone to become themselves, surveying the world around them to conquer all sense of desolation, to take on the life given to them, to enjoy what the living water has given them through their struggle.
“Living water” is a metaphor for baptism and our life of faith. This water of life is always moving – changing and challenging – sometimes even overwhelming us, but always it brings that verbal adjective to a reality in our experience. It is now in our lives providing us a life running through us to others as we care for them, as they experience their own waters of baptism.