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Title: Water for all, for life, and for unity.
Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42
Date: Third Sunday of Lent, 12 March 2023, 11.00am
Isn’t it great when we all come together? When we gather, and congregate around something we have in common. There are many things that bring us together and unify us, like, I suppose, football: big matches on the big screens with best commentators; remember the olden days when we all huddled round the TV watching Match of the Day on the BBC? Of course, Football isn’t the only thing that unites us. From our Gospel this morning, people are brought together around a well, a watering-hole if you like. Water always brings us together.
Water, brings us together because it is the source of life. Human beings are made up of around sixty per cent water and the earth is almost completely covered with water, we cannot survive without it. Water is able to calm, and heal, to salve, cleanse, to restore and to reconcile. We are creatures made of water and creatures who need water. Wherever there is water, there we gather, bound together as one, we build cities alongside rivers, we irrigate our land to grow our crops, every creature of this earth comes to the water to drink.
Spiritually, the Christian person is born again through the waters of our baptism, and Jesus alludes to himself as the living water, in whom all our thirst will be quenched. The water that I will give, he says, will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. It is this water that brings about new life and new possibilities, it is this water that can make miracles happen.
In the book of Exodus, we find the Israelites grumbling; they are in the desert and have had nothing to drink for days. Without water the people are fractious and divided. What brings them together in the end? Water bubbles up from the side of a rock like a crystal fountain- and through that water, the people are reconciled to God and to one another.
God yearns for humanity to be bound together as one, and gives them water, to make it happen. Because of this water, the people of Israel are drawn back together and are carried through their wilderness into the promised land. St Paul later refers to Jesus as the rock from which this living water comes.
Our Gospel reading today, is about water from a deep, life-giving well, which reveals the true identity of the woman who came to fetch it in the heat of the day. This is the water that reconciles Samaritan and Jew, male and female, the excluded and the included. This water washes away any idea of us and them, the well becomes a place of meeting, water brings people together. Jesus is crossing every social boundary by talking to this woman- but through this conversation he speaks of the hope that one day, all will worship together in spirit and in truth….and he of course, is the living water which will make this happen. This is the ultimate reconciliation of all things in Christ, the living water that brings all things together.
St Paul in his letter to the Romans, reflects further on what this reconciliation might mean. Reconciliation is in essence is a very simple thing, it is to be made one, and through Christ the whole of humanity has the potential to be made one with God and with one another. Jacobs’ well at Sychar, is the place, where for a moment in time, all things are drawn together under God, above and beyond all the petty divisions that separate us.
As the water from the rock brought the Israelites together- so Jesus, the living water, seeks to restore and reconcile all things to himself, bringing the whole of humanity through the wilderness of doubt and division into the promised land of joy and gladness and complete unification before God. This kind of unity is something we are thirsty for today, not only in our world but also in our church.
Jesus had a vision of all people reconciled with one another. The tribes and nations of the world re-created as one family, worshipping God together in unity and recognizing one another as children made in the image of God. For us, that hard work of reconciliation begins with our baptism, but also with something as simple as our prayer of confession at the beginning of every eucharist- we have not loved God with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves…there our reconciliation begins, as we gather at the well and drink of the living water.
This is the work we are called to undertake in lent, reflecting on how we give ourselves to this task of being made one when there is so much pulling us apart and when we experience a world which is divided and unjust. We do so need that living water to renew us and bring us together until justice rolls down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
This week we hear again of the most vulnerable and most excluded in our world, our most needy neighbours, brought to our shores across the waters of the English channel, seeking safety and asylum after terrible loss and grief, and yet, as a society how are we proposing to welcome them? Will we even give them something to drink? The direction of some current policies seem to be taking us further towards division, this morning the Archbishop of York has called the government’s new asylum and migration law ‘cruel and without purpose’, it seems as if we are being scattered, rather than drawn together through our common humanity, we are being turned against one another, and encouraged to turn away those we should be loving.
The Gospel is always very clear on these matters: Jesus constantly challenges us to consider, who is ‘included’ and who is ‘excluded’? What does being reconciled in and through Christ mean for us today? We are called to gather around the living water, we are called to generosity in our response to those who are thirsty. True reconciliation, of which St Paul speaks, means seeing Christ in one another and loving as he loves us. It means recognising that we are all equal under God.
If we waited at Jacob’s well for a little longer, who else would be drawn to the water at an unsociable hour, who else would be seeking to quench their thirst? To all those who come, Jesus offers living water, and desires that we his children do the same. Whoever turns up at the well is given the water of life.
The story of the woman at the well, shows us that Christ, the living water, shows no partiality. Though the disciples were clearly uncomfortable about Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman and urged him to turn away, Jesus recognizes her as a child of God and she becomes a prophet, a messenger, an evangelist, for the good news, there at the well, where water is shared. God turns no-one away, and sends no-one away without offering them a drink of that living water.
It is to the woman at the well, that Jesus reveals that one day we will all be together, made one in him.
We are all called to drink of the water, offered to us by a loving and generous God, freely given for renewal, restoration, and reconciliation, given to bring us to life, and given to bring us back together.
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