Lent III

The people of Israel in the Book of Exodus are a rum old lot. They have been saved from slavery and misery in Egypt, and all they can do is complain and find fault. People can be strange, stubborn infuriating creatures. We can I hope recognise something of ourselves in them: stubborn, wilful, and sinful. But lest we get too disheartened it is important to recognise that Moses strikes the rock at Horeb, as the Lord commands him, and out flows water. As St Paul puts it ‘For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.’ (1Cor 10:4 ESV) This water, like the parted water of the Red Sea prefigures Christ, the living water, and our baptism, through which we enter the Church. Through it we are regenerate, born again to eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, whose side was pierced on Calvary, and whence flowed blood and water. This water speaks to us of the grace of God poured out upon us, his people, to heal us and restore us, to help us live his risen life.

So as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, we can do so joyfully because God’s love has been poured into our hearts — what matters is what has been done to us, by God, out of love, so that we can be like him. He is the reconciliation which achieves what we cannot: restoring our relationship with God and each other, healing our wounds, and giving us eternal life in Him. This is our faith as Christians, which can help us and strengthen us in times of uncertainty, such as we are living in today. Christ died for us, because God loves us, and we can trust in that.

Picture the scene — it’s the middle of the day, the sun is blazing overhead, he’s been walking for hours, days even. Jesus is tired — as a man, a human being, he is no different from you or me — he ate and drank,  he was thirsty.. Mid-day is certainly no time to be drawing water from a well — it’s something you do first thing in the morning, as the sun is rising. What sort of a woman is drawing water at mid-day? Hardly a respectable one, but rather someone shunned, someone beyond the pale, cast out of polite society as an adulteress who is living in sin. Jesus asks the woman for a drink — Jesus is defying a social convention — He’s breaking the rules. The woman is really surprised — Jews are supposed to treat Samaritans as outcasts, they are beyond the pale: treated something like the Roma in Eastern Europe – outcasts, second class, scum, to be despised and looked down upon. And yet Jesus asks her for water, he initiates the conversation and the encounter, with an outsider, to bring her in.

Jesus offers her living water, so that she may never be thirsty again. The woman desires it, so that she will never be thirsty again, or have to come to the well to draw water, she’s fed up of the work, and fed up of being an outcast, and having to do it at antisocial hours when the community can see who and what she is. Jesus knows who and what she is – He recognises her irregular lifestyle. He also sees her need of God — her need for the water of grace to restore her soul, and inspire her to tell people the Good News. The woman’s testimony is powerful because she has experienced God’s love as a living reality and she simply has to tell people about it. She brings them to Christ so that they can be nourished, so that they too can experience the grace of God.

People are interested in who and what Jesus is, what He’s got to say, and they believe and trust in Him as the Messiah the Anointed of God, as the Saviour of the World, a title recently taken up by the Roman Emperor. These are big claims to make, and dangerous ones, which along with Christ’s healings will soon lead to His condemnation and death. In plenty of parts of the world the proclamation of the Good News still leads to imprisonment, torture and death, even today. And yet as Christians we are called to bear witness regardless of the personal cost, so that the world may believe. Here in the West we have as a church become comfortable, we forget about persecution, or view it at a safe distance. We’re not involved, it doesn’t matter that much to us. Are we far from the grace of our baptism? Have we not encountered Jesus in Word and Sacrament? Are we too afraid of the World? The world which Christ overcomes on the Cross.

To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to His word; if we talk to Him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him in the Eucharist, by Christ both priest and victim, to become what He is — God; if we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This is what we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. Christ gives us the living water of baptism, and His Body and Blood so that we might have the promise of eternal life, and be transformed into His likeness. This is the point of the Incarnation, God becomes human, so that humanity can share the life of God. 

The Samaritans are right, for they know that, ‘that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.’ (Jn 4:42 ESV), and they like St Paul can rejoice in their sufferings, and so can we, because God has given us hope, and poured His love into our hearts, the love that casts out fear. Whatever happens, we can put our trust in someone who will never disappoint us, whose promises are sure, and who loves us. So let us come to Him, let us trust Him that He may take us and fill us with His love so that we may share it with others so that the world may believe and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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Lent II

We can often find ourselves in situations in which we would rather not be. The current corona virus outbreak is one such example. We feel powerless and scared, the future is uncertain, and panic can easily ensue. There are things we can do, precautions we can take, washing our hands being the main one. We can also pray for all those affected, and trust God to be with us in this troubling time. 

In our first reading this morning God makes some large demands of Abram, to leave his native land, his nearest and dearest, what he knows and is most familiar with, to go on a journey, and to trust God. He has no idea where he is going, or what is going to happen, but Abram puts his trust in God, knowing that God has promised that Abram will be blessed and a blessing to others. God likewise calls each and every one of us to follow Him, and trust Him. This is not easy at all, but it is what God calls each and every one of us to do. 

Likewise St Paul writing to Timothy while under house arrest in Rome, facing a trial that will lead to his death, is in a difficult situation. He is a prisoner of the Lord, who sees his own suffering as a sharing in the suffering of Christ. In this he is united with Christ and enters into Christ’s Passion, and through the power of God’s suffering love experiences true glory. What was true for St Paul is true for us. 

In the Gospel, Jesus has just explained to His disciples that He must suffer, die, and rise from the dead. He then takes Peter, James, and John with Him, and when they are alone Christ is transfigured. The disciples are given a glimpse of the glory of God, a glory that will be made manifest in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Also at the moment of the Transfiguration the disciples hear the voice of God the Father. He tells us that Jesus is Jesus is the Son of God, that He is Beloved and God is pleased with Him, and that we should listen to Him. The key here is obedience, listening to what God says to us in prayer and scripture, and doing it. For God suffering and glory go together, and you cannot have one without the other, because the point is to demonstrate sacrificial love to the world, love which has the power to transform, and heal. Hence Jesus can tell His disciples to rise and have no fear, perfect love casts out fear. While fear is a proper response to the presence of God, God calls us in love to follow Him, and enter into the mystery of His love.

Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah to show His disciples and the Church that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Scripture points to Him and finds its fulfilment in Him: He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter responds in a moment with a very human response, he knows that it is good to be here and it helps to change his life. His response points to the Feast of Tabernacles when Jews remembered the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai to Moses. But this experience is not to be prolonged, it is a glimpse of the future glory, a moment to be experienced, and not a place to dwell.

When God speaks he tells us three things about Jesus: He is the Son of God, He is loved and we should listen to Him –- what he says and does should affect us and our lives –- we have to be open to the possibility of being changed by God. Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. The detail is important: Jesus will go up another mountain to suffer and die upon the cross, taking our sins upon Himself, restoring our relationship with God and each other. This is real glory -– not worldly glory but the glory of God’s sacrificial love poured out on the world to heal it and restore it.

“Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name”

Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158

That is why we are here this morning –- to see the self same sacrifice here with our own eyes, to touch and to taste what God’s love is really like –- to go up the mountain and experience the glory of God, so that God’s love may transform us. We are given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be transformed by God. This is true glory –- the glory of the Cross, the glory of suffering love lavished upon the world. The Transfiguration looks to the Cross to help us prepare ourselves to live the life of faith. To help us to behold true majesty, true love and true glory –- the kind that can change the world and last forever, for eternity, not the fading glory of the world, here today and gone tomorrow, but something everlasting, wonderful.

So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning, let us touch and taste God’s glory, let us prepare to be transformed by his love, through the power of His Holy Spirit, built up as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. As those who are healed, and restored, reconciled, and given a foretaste of eternal life with him, so may God take our lives and transform us, so that everything that we say, or think, or do, may proclaim him, let us tell the world about Him, so that it too may believe and trust and have new life in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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