Virtual Worship in a Time of Health Emergency

Because of our liturgical tradition it is always a difficult decision to cancel Sunday services. Gathering together in the assembly of the baptised on the day of resurrection (Sunday) is the first duty of a Christian. Why? Because it is as a community that God addresses us regardless of the state of our own individual relationship with the divine. It is as a community we hear ourselves being invited by God through the lectionary readings to the conversation God is seeking to have with us -freeing us from the same self-serving conversation we would prefer to have with ourselves. In the Eucharist we come to be fed with real sustenance for our journey together as God’s agents in the world.

Therefore, as Rector, I have not taken the decision to cancel services for the next two weeks, lightly. I thank everyone for their support for this decision.I have become convinced of the wider social need to flatten the curve of the rate of infection by limiting the occasions for larger public gathering. The consequences of the CoronaVirus Pandemic are now very serious not only for human health, but for social cohesion and the economic prosperity upon which all rely.

There is no such thing as a foreign virus. The cumulative consequences of the pandemic are very serious for global cohesion and our ability to collaborate across borders in pursuit of the common goal.

In this posting you will find the service of sung Morning Prayer led by the St Martin’s Chapel Consort, together with Linda’s+ sermon for this week.

You may simply listen to the service or participate from home by following the order in the Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 78. If you don’t have a BCP you can download the service here. I have made other suggestions for how to approach worshiping virtually in Friday’s E-Blast.

Our religious faith forms in us an attitude for the daily practice of hopeful resilience. Hope is our compass setting to use an analogy. Times of crisis, understood from our Christian perspective of hopeful resilience, are times in which we recall our true purpose and reorient ourselves to matters of ultimate significance, i.e.those things which really matter in our lives.

Stay safe, get outside and enjoy spring’s budding, and do not fail to keep an awareness for the needs of others around you. Be ready to lend assistance when and where the need arises.

Mark+

Follow here the podcast for Sung Morning Prayer.

Listen here or read below Linda’s+ sermon

A Love Story

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah.

Each of these couples–foundational figures of the faith and our identity as people of God—each of them has something in common with the others, besides the fact that they are related, if only (as in the case of Moses) very distantly. Each of their relationships began—at a well.

In some ways, it’s not surprising. The communal well was where people gathered as part of their working day, so it would be natural for a stranger to the area to come to the well for refreshment, gossip, information or, evidently, a spouse. In the lore of the Ancient Near East the well just seems like a natural place to begin a love story.

Does that make today’s Gospel passage a love story? Interesting question.

Jesus and his disciples were on their way from Judea to Galilee, but they had to go through Samaria—not a route that most self-respecting Jews would look forward to traveling. The split between Jews and Samaritans extended back centuries, and centered on a dispute over the proper place of worship—either at the Temple at Jerusalem or at a shrine on Mount Gerazim. The conflict had come to a head about 150 years before when Jewish troops destroyed the shrine. Since that point the hatred between the two parties had been at a slow burn, and they couldn’t bear to be in each other’s company. Sad to say we don’t find it difficult to imagine such a situation today.

So Jesus was effectively in enemy territory. He was tired. He was hot. He was thirsty. And he was at a well. Only unlike his patriarch forbears, he was alone. There was no one else there, because no one would be at a well at noon, in the heat of the day. Unless it suited her to be alone at a well in the heat of the day. With no one to talk to. No one to answer to. No one to pry, or to speculate, or to pity, or to judge.

Tradition has it that the woman who approached the well that day was a particular kind of sinner—a loose woman who married and then cast off husbands as though they were old shoes. But this is simply not backed up in the words of John. All he says is that she had had five husbands, and the man she was with was not her husband. In a patriarchal society she didn’t have the power to pick and choose, to take on and cast off, remarrying at will. It was more likely that she had been married young and then widowed and passed on to her deceased husband’s brothers according to custom because without a husband or children she had no other means of support. Or her husbands had cast her away because of infertility. And the man she was with, for whatever reason, refused to marry her.  Regardless of the reason, and whether the sin was hers or whether she was a victim of a misogynist culture, she was shamed; humiliated. And the last thing she would have wanted would be to be confronted with that pain in the cool of the morning or evening when everyone else was there to poke and prod her wound.

So she practiced radical social distancing to protect herself. She was safe, perhaps, but also lonely and isolated, with only shame to keep her company. As she approached the well she was probably dismayed to see a stranger there, in the heat of the day, with no bucket. A Jewish stranger.

“Give me a drink.”

With those four words the stranger violated three boundaries. One: He was a Jew speaking to a Samaritan, asking for a drink from a Samaritan well, from a Samaritan jar. Two: He was a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman. And three: He was a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman with a humiliating marital history. What was he thinking?

“Give me a drink.”

Here’s the thing about water. It is profoundly obedient to gravity. It seeps and drips and flows and burbles and eddies and gushes and tumbles downward, ever downward toward its lowest point. The spring that quenched the thirst of the community at Sychar was far underground, and the time it took for the woman to let her jar down, and to bring it back up again, heavy and full, was time for a long conversation; the longest conversation between Jesus and anyone in the Gospels.

There was plenty of time for talk, for healing, and for transformation.

This is that kind of a love story.

Jesus talked of living water, and the woman was intrigued. Was he really greater than the Patriarch Jacob, the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel? Was it even possible to drink and never thirst again? As they talked, the truth of his identity began to seep, drip, flow and burble in her heart.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Please, make it so I don’t have to keep going through this humiliation anymore.

And how does Jesus respond? He changes the subject. Or does he?

“Go, call your husband, and come back.”

Lutheran pastor and writer Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it bluntly (she puts everything bluntly) observing,

“…when [Jesus] says to her that he offers her living water that gushes up to eternal life and when she says Give me this water so that I may not thirst he then goes straight for her wound. She says give me this living water and he asks about her husband.

He wasn’t avoiding the subject – he was avoiding the BS.

You want to stop trying to quench your thirst with things that will never satisfy? You want this eternal life then it starts with being seen. It starts with the truth – the naked truth of your original wound and your original beauty and every good and bad thing about you. You have heard it said that water finds it’s [sic] lowest point – well, living water finds your lowest point.”

Pastor Nadia, at her best.

Living Water seeps and drips to our lowest point, our deepest shame, our darkest anxiety. Living water flows and burbles to our lowest point, soothing, healing, and offering peace that passes all understanding in a time when panic and isolation have left high and dry. Living Water gushes and quenches the soul’s thirst, transforming the wounded and rejected and lonely into something new. Something beloved.

This is that kind of a love story.

Jesus revealed that he was the Messiah, and she ran back to the city, overflowing with new courage; her jar no longer needed, proclaiming the Good News to the people. Because that’s what apostles do. They meet Jesus, they are transformed by him, and then bring others to come and see.

“Come and see, a man who told me everything I have ever done!” And you can almost hear her add, “And he loves me anyway!”

Later, in Eastern tradition, this woman would at last be given a name: Photini, “Luminous One.” Her heart lit from within by encounter with the One for whom, she’d waited all her life without realizing it.

That kind of love story.

Isn’t that what any of us want? That kind of love? That kind of healing? That kind of courage to face the days ahead? Especially now?

Jesus, please, give us this Living Water. Amen.

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