Readings for the 3rd Sunday in Lent:
Because the thirsty Israelites quarreled with Moses and put God to the test, Moses cried out in desperation to God. God commanded Moses to strike the rock to provide water for the people. The doubt-filled question—“Is the Lord among us or not?”—received a very positive answer.
Though we often hear that God helps those who help themselves, here Paul tells us that through Jesus’ death God helps utterly helpless sinners. Since we who had been enemies are reconciled to God in the cross, we now live in hope for our final salvation.
Let us pray,
Holy and gracious God
We find ourselves in the wilderness of fear and uncertainty. Information and news bombard us from every direction, and anxiety about how to keep ourselves and those we love safe overwhelms.
Like the psalmist, we look to the mountains. Where will our help come from? Like the Israelites desperate for water in the desert, we ask “Is the Lord really with us or not?” Give us faith, O God, the faith that is lived out as trust: trust that our help will come from you, maker of heaven and earth.
Today, Gracious One, we lift our thanks and prayers for researchers, doctors, nurses and all healthcare professionals. We pray for everyone around the world and closer to home affected directly by COVID-19. We pray for those who are elderly and whose immunities are compromised. We pray for all who are uncertain and fearful about the economic impact on their lives and their families. Protect, sustain, comfort, heal, strengthen and hold all of us, O God.
Like the Israelites hungering and thirsting in the wilderness, help us to know that you are with us. Quench our thirsting spirits with your peace, which is beyond our understanding. Bring us together in spirit, even as we may be physically and socially isolated that we may face fear and uncertainty together, with courage, compassion, wisdom and your peace. Amen.
Written by Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson
Canceling worship for today was not a decision that was taken lightly. Communities across the country, and across the world are taking steps these days to distance ourselves physically from each other in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. It feels strange to intentionally separate ourselves from each other – especially as the church. And yet it could be the greatest gift we can offer each other and our community, if it means slowing down the spread of a virus that is most dangerous to the vulnerable in our communities.
I think it’s because of this “social distancing” experiment that I have been especially drawn in our gospel reading for today (John 4:5-42) to the Samaritan woman at the well, because she is a person living in isolation.
Through no fault of her own, this woman has been passed along from man to man; abandoned five times and now dependent on another man who will not marry her. She has resigned herself to this culturally-imposed isolation by coming to the well at noon, when nobody else will be there. It is a lonely life. And yet Jesus comes to her, in the midst of her isolation and speaks with her, is present to her, and truly sees her.
And Jesus did not get there by accident. In the verses that precede today’s gospel John tells us that “it is necessary” for Jesus and his disciples to go through Samaria. But geographically, that is not actually true. And culturally, a Jewish person would intentionally NOT travel through Samaria when going from Judea to Galilee. The two nations had found ways of isolating themselves from each other. But for Jesus it was necessary to reach out through that isolation to build relationship through conversation.
And coming to the well, Jesus saw this Samaritan woman alone in the noonday heat, and he engaged her in conversation, even argued a bit with her. He was present to her when by all accounts he should have stayed at a distance. And through their conversation, Jesus revealed to her that he is the Messiah who offers living water “that will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life”.
That is the entire intention of God becoming flesh in Jesus and living among us: to reconnect us with God’s presence and love. It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria and be present to the Samaritan women in her isolation. And, ironically, their conversation had such a profound effect on the woman that she left her water jug at the well in order to run into the city and invite all the people she’d been avoiding up till now to come and see and meet Jesus.
You and I are likely to face some isolating moments in the weeks to come. So please remember that Jesus will go out of his way to reach you and be present to you even when you feel the most alone. And with Jesus as our model, we are called to seek out ways that we might be present and engage with one another in the midst of our distance.
It is necessary, Jesus might say, that we reach out through phone calls and cards and running errands for those most vulnerable. It is necessary for us to go out of our way to connect with those who are isolated, trusting that through our intentions Jesus’ presence might be made known in our community. Because it is God’s desire to be present to us, no matter how isolated we feel.