The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      15th March 2020
The Living Water that Calms Our Fears
Ayla Lepine

Text:
Exodus 17.1-7
John 4.5-42

If you need help, ask.

If you can help, provide.

In the 16th century, St Francis de Sales, famous for his Treatise of the Love of God, sought to work gently in the midst of conflict. He was a peace-builder in a time of wildly controversial and dangerous divisions in the Church and in society. He came from a noble family, and with his status and wealthy background people expected him to be influential in civic life. Instead, at the turn of the 17th century. When asked why, He said, ‘Because God is Love.’ He invited those around him to ‘Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.’ In our Lent group on the Eucharist yesterday morning, we spoke about sacrificial living. The word ‘sacrifice’ is a challenging one. Christ sacrificed himself, for love, willingly, so that we might all enter into the life of God in a new way, and be transformed by Christ’s light in our lives both now and eternally. But what does ‘sacrifice’ mean for us? It often means doing what St Teresa of Avila called ‘many acts of love, because they enkindle and melt the soul.’ One of the finest ways of dispersing and calming fear is to extend love to others, and to trust in God in a way that weaves itself together with wisdom and courage.

In our reading from Exodus, Moses and the Israelites have made so many sacrifices for the sake of freedom. They are afraid, exhausted, and deeply anxious about whether they will have enough food and water to survive. Their needs are basic, and the physical and spiritual needs of these people, who are running out of patience, are closely tied together. Moses becomes terrified of their violent anger and bitter frustration. He implores God to do something, anything, to create peace by meeting their needs. Unable, for the moment, to trust God because the situation is so bleak, the Israelites become desperate. If they could hoard toilet paper and handgel in the desert, that’s most certainly what they would have been doing. And who would blame them? They were terrified.

They demand water. God tells him that he will be present in a rock that will gush with water, to be a sign of his presence, to keep them spiritually and physically alive. The place gets a new name, which to translate the Hebrew means ‘Testing and Dispute’. This is because the Israelites cried out, ‘Where is God? Is God present, or not?’ And God responded: I am here.

Note the parallel, and the differences too, with Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It is Jesus this time, and not the Israelites, who asks for water. But he does not do so with fear, or violence, or frustration, but with simplicity and trust. What a role reversal. And it begins with Jesus, fully human and fully God, asking for a basic physical need to be filled. He’s thirsty. Jesus on the cross, when he’s dying, will say these words again, as he suffers: ‘I thirst.’ The One who gives the water of life with sacrificing himself had basic needs.

The Samaritan woman responds with hesitation, explaining that she knows the social boundary between Jewish and Samaritan people. Frankly, they’re meant to be enemies. They’re meant to keep their distance. She is wary. Jesus is not. The distance doesn’t matter to him. The thirst is the beginning of an opportunity to connect, and to form a new relationship that symbolises the relationship God will form with every single person, radiating outwards from that time and place to encompass as many people as choose to come and be nourished by the living water of Christ.

As they talk together, Jesus offers a bewildering truth. The water of life is a water that provides eternal nourishment. The physical water in the well becomes a way of pointing towards the spiritual water of the Kingdom of God. She doesn’t understand (who would?), at least not at first. As Jesus builds solidarity with her, he talks about her life in a way she never expected. Almost certainly, she has had so many husbands because these men have not treated her well. Divorce and rejection were not uncommon. Any of us who has ever assumed that all those husbands were because of her actions, and not male power, might need to think again about this woman’s identity and character. At this point in the story, it’s not Jesus who needs a drink. It’s her. It’s everyone. And he is the living water. We will never be thirsty again.

Today we receive Communion in one kind: the bread only, the Body of Christ. Christ is not divided. We drink the wine, the Blood of Christ, not because Jesus is present in one way in the bread and in another in the wine, but because the Last Supper included both food and drink, and so we do this together too. That’s why the president takes the chalice at the altar and drinks it, to remember all that Jesus did. However, for all of us, receiving the bread only is a full Communion with Christ, drawing us into this sacred feast and richly and as powerfully as ever. Trust that with the Body of Christ in your hands today, broken for you, the living water is with us all, forever.

As Covid-19 spreads, there is fear and anxiety, especially amongst those who are most at risk. We can connect with our communities in ways that reduce anxiety, help our neighbours, and tend to people’s spiritual and physical needs because we are motivated by that living water who is with us always. Because God is love, we are invited to send messages of hope to those who are self-isolating, replenish the food banks, check in on people, share what we have, be wise and careful about our own health, and work together with our neighbours, no matter who they are. 

I’ll end with two voices: St Paul and St Francis de Sales, that saint with whom I began.

Today St Paul tells us: ‘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.’

Today St Francis de Sales tells us: ‘Be at peace. Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope as they arise. God, whose very own you are, will deliver you from out of them. He has kept you hitherto, and He will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in his arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.’

Amen.

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