Lent III John 4: 5–42

 

God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us

Hyperichius said, ‘The tree of life is high, and humility climbs it.’

He also said, ‘Imitate the tax-collector, to prevent yourself being condemned with the Pharisee. Follow the gentleness of Moses, and hollow out the rocky places of your heart, so that you turn them into springs of water.’

 

People can be strange, stubborn infuriating creatures, and the picture given to us of the Israelites in Exodus should strike something of a chord. We can recognise something of ourselves in it: 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. This water, like the parted water of the Red Sea prefigures Christ, the living water, 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.

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, and he was knackered. 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 – he’s defying a social convention – he’s breaking the rules. She’s really surprised – Jews are supposed to treat Samaritans as outcasts, they’re beyond the pale: they’re 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. Her 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, big claims to make, and dangerous ones, which along with His 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, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. So that we too may praise the Father, the Son and 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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Guercino Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1640-1

Lent IV

Let those who think that the Church pays too much attention to Mary give heed to the fact that Our Blessed Lord Himself gave ten times as much of His life to her  as He gave to His Apostles.

Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love, 1956: 88

As human beings we believe  that we have been created in the image of God, and thus human love should reflect something of that divine love. Most of us, though sadly not all, experience self-giving, sacrificial love from our parents, and particularly our mothers: they nourish us, care for us, comfort and love us, just as they have given birth to us: it is a wonderful thing, which should be celebrated and held up as an example.

When the Church seeks to understand and celebrate mothers she does so by considering the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He is cared for through the love of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in her love, service, and obedience, stands as the model for all Christians to follow. She is the first Christian, and the greatest: a pattern for us to imitate, and a foreshadowing of our great mother the church, which seeks to offer the world a moral framework, within which to live its life; and to offer the world an alternative, a new way of living and of being through which to have life, and have life in all its fullness.

Mary’s is a love which will see her stand at the foot of the Cross and experience the pain of watching her Son die, for love of us. Any parent will tell you that they would do anything to save their children from hurt or harm, and yet there she stands, and is initiated into a new relationship where she becomes a mother to John, the beloved disciple, and through him, a mother of all of, the mother of the church, someone who loves, prays, and cherishes.

It is this love which St Paul expects of the church in Colossae, and which God expects of us: it describes what love looks like: it isn’t easy, it’s difficult, costly and frustrating, but through it we can grow in love, of God and each other.

The salvation and eternal life which Christ offers freely to all, comes through the church, which we enter in our baptism, where we are nourished in word and sacrament, where we given food for the journey of faith, strengthened and taught, to live his risen life, to share in the joys of Easter.

God cares so much about the world and its people that he takes flesh, and lives a life of love, amidst the messiness of humanity, to show us how to live lives filled with love, life in all its fullness. Not to condemn the world but to offer it a way of being. God has made us for himself , and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. The spiritual needs and searching which characterise people in the world around us, can be satisfied in God and in God alone, through the church. So we can rejoice, and relax our Lenten discipline for a little while to give thanks for the wonderful gift of God’s love in our lives, in the church, and for the world.

But we also need to trust God, to listen to what he says through Scripture, to be fed by him, and to live lives in accordance with his will and purpose, together, as a family, as a community of love, cared for and supported by our mother, the church. And in so doing we look to our Lady as mother of our Lord and mother of the church, as a pattern for love and obedience, as a model for all mothers: loving and tender, putting the needs of others before self, self-giving, sacrificial, and open to both joy and pain.

This, as any mother can tell you, is not easy, it’s difficult, really hard, but its rewards are likewise great. So let us, as we continue our Lenten journey towards the cross, where God shows his love for us most fully and completely, giving his body to be broken and his blood be shed for us, a sacrifice which will be made present here today under the outward forms of bread and wine, to strengthen us to live the risen life of Easter, to offer the world and alternative to selfishness, to self-centredness, to the sin which continues to separate us from God and each other, an alternative seen in the self-giving love of mothers, and in our mother, the church. So that we may join the Angels in our song of love and praise to the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom…

Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: 1 Peter 2:9-10

Hold me worthy , O Lord, to behold your mercy in my soul before I depart from this world; may I be aware in myself at that hour of your comfort, along with those who have gone forth from this world in good hope. Open my heart, O my God, by your grace and purify me from any association with sin. Tread out in my heart the path of repentance, my God and my Lord, my hope and my boast, my strong refuge, by whom may my eyes be illumined, and may I have understanding of your truth, Lord. Hold me worthy, Lord, to taste the joy of the gift of repentance, by which the soul is separated from co-operating with sin and the will of flesh and blood. Hold me worthy, O Lord, to taste this state, wherein lies the gift of pure prayer. O my Saviour, may I attain to this wondrous transition at which the soul abandons this visible world, and at which new stirrings arise on our entering into the spiritual world and the experience of new perceptions.

St Isaac of Nineveh

The Apostle Peter is writing to a church which is undergoing persecution on account of their faith in Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. While you could argue that this is not happening to us here, now, openly, it does nonetheless happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are called to bear witness to Christ regardless of the cost. If anything the persecution in this country is more to do with apathy, ignorance, and our dismissal from public discourse unless we are in agreement with popular whim or sentiment: such is the tyranny of secularism, which we must, as Christians resist, as we are called to conform the world to the will of God.

We are called to be a holy nation and a chosen race, not in exclusive ethnic terms, like the people of Israel, but rather because we are one in Christ, through our common baptism, having passed through that water greater than the Red Sea, which gives freedom to all the world: we can look beyond the simplistic divisions of the world to something greater, and far more wonderful, and while we are certainly not there yet, we are all nonetheless travelling on a journey towards unity, because it is the will of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and his prayer to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest in John 17.

Our highest allegiance then is not to the powers of this world, for we recognise a higher power, the King of Heaven and Earth, which is Christ. He makes us royal, he gives us entry into that greatest of palaces, that is heaven, through His Precious Blood which was shed to heal us and restore us, there is as the hymn puts it power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. It is through Christ’s priesthood, a priesthood of the new covenant in His Blood, after the order of Melchisedech, that the church continues a cultic priesthood to offer continually that one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that the people of God may be made holy, by being fed with His Body and Blood so that our human nature may be transformed into his divine nature: Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν· ‘He became human so that we might become divine’ Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3.

We are holy, set apart for God’s service and the proclamation of His Kingdom , proclaiming the saving acts of God in Christ, and calling the world to repent, to turn away from the ways of sin and self, and to believe and trust in a God who loves us and saves us. Christ calls us out of the darkness of sin, of the world into the glorious light of His Kingdom. This is the fulfilment of the prophesy of Hosea 1:6 and 1:9 Once we were no people, now we are God’s people (cf. Hosea 1:9 Call his name lo-ammi [not my people] 1:6 Call her name lo-ruhamah [who has not received mercy]) We are God’s people, God claims us for His own, through His Son, who shows us in His life, Death, and Resurrection exactly what mercy is: A God who suffers and dies for love of us, poor sinful humanity, that we might become something better, something greater. God sees that human sinfulness is such a problem that only an outpouring of Divine Love in the sacrifice of His Son can save us.

And having received mercy, love and forgiveness in Christ, we show it in our lives so that ours is a proclamation not only of words but of deeds, so that we play an active part in the reconciliation of the world to God in Christ. Mercy, with joy and peace are the fruit of charity: our love of God and our neighbour, we love because God loved us first, and as we show mercy, we shall receive mercy, we harvest what we sow.

As St Isaac says ‘Do not hate the sinner. Become a proclaimer of God’s grace, seeing that God provides for you even though you are unworthy. Although your debt to him is very great, there is no evidence of him exacting any payment from you, whereas in return for the small ways you do manifest good intention he rewards you abundantly. Do not speak of God as ‘just’, for his justice is not in evidence in his actions towards you. How can you call God just when you read the gospel lesson concerning the hiring of the workmen in the vineyard? How can someone call God just when he comes across the story of the prodigal son who frittered away all his belongings in riotous living — yet merely in response to his contrition his father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave authority over all his possession? In these passages it is not someone else speaking about God; had this been the case, we might have had doubts about God’s goodness. No it is God’s own Son who testifies about him in this way. Where then is this ‘justice’ in God, seeing that, although we were sinners, Christ died for us? If he is so compassionate in this, we have faith that he will not change.’

We show this love first in obedience, like Our Lord’s Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as we heard in this morning’s Gospel in her words to the servants ‘Do whatever he tells you’ If we are obedient, like Mary, then model disciple and mother of the Church, the first and greatest Christian, then we can truly be salt and light to the world, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

The Good News is the announcement of God’s mercy, shown to us in Christ, in Him we see what God is really like, in Him we experience love, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation. Through Him we are healed and restored, we become God’s people, and proclaim God’s Kingdom, so that humanity may come to experience God’s love and mercy, and believe and give Glory to 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 unto the ages of ages.