Tag Archives: Jesus

There Is No Going Back To Normal Or the Glory Days – This is the Beginning

GOSPEL: John 17:1-11
1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples], he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you… 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, we arrive at the seventh and final Sunday in the season of Easter. Easter 2020 must be, without a doubt, the most memorable Easter in our memories. “We are living through history” has been an oft’ repeated phrase of the pandemic era. And our Easter journey as people of faith has not been that far off from our lived reality. Hiding out in locked rooms for fear of the outside world is an essential Easter experience. Having no frame of reference, no experienced story to tell that makes sense of our new world is an essential Easter experience. And being prepared as disciples of Jesus for an unknown future is an essential Easter experience. 

As we prepare to the flip the page on Easter with Pentecost Sunday next week, we slide between Easter realities. In John’s gospel we slide back to Holy Week where Jesus prays for his followers just as he is about to go the cross. In Acts, we hear Jesus and the disciples having a conversation about what happens next to this fledging Easter community. 

The disciples come to Jesus with a request to go back, to return the Kingdom of Israel.  To a specific dream of the“glory days.” A vision that requires a deep dive into the history of Israel.  A specific moment in time, after Moses, after the promise land, beginning with King David but before foreign nations began threatening their borders and before they were exiled and occupied by the Romans. And of course not during the reign of one of the bad or mediocre Kings, but one of the greats! Of course they forget that even during the best of times, God was still sending prophets into their midst telling them to repent and get their act together. 

After all the disciples had seen, from following the call of Jesus from their fishing boats to witnessing the resurrected Christ appear behind locked doors, and their burning question is “are we going back?”

Sound at all familiar?

If you have spent any time reading, watching or listening to the news, you know that the world is wondering when things are going to reopen: from sports to shopping to public spaces – including places of worship. In fact, in many cases, Christians have been at the forefront of the demand to for political and public health leaders to loosen restrictions on gatherings. 

And you would think of all the people demanding that things go back to the way they used to be, we would know better. 

Because we have been longing to go back to what we remember as the glory days, long before this pandemic hit the world. But of course, nailing down what we think we want to go back to is not as easy or straightforward as we think. It was only a matter of weeks ago that we were concerned with declining resources and aging populations and shrinking congregations. Is that what we want to return to? Or is there a more specific place we want to go backwards towards? Do we want to go back to the days of church buildings full of worshippers and bursting Sunday Schools? To a time when women, people of colour and LGBTQ2SIA+ people were prevented from holding positions of leadership in the church? To the time when many churches were homogenous cultural enclaves? To the time when pastors were paid in the chickens and made pastoral visits in order to shame members into handing over their offering?

Our desire may be to go back to the good old days, but which good old days might be hard to answer. 

It is normal to lament what was. Especially when we don’t know what is or what will be. But we have to admit it is strange to long for something that most of us can agree wasn’t that good… something that, if we’re really being honest needed change?

So when the disciples ask their question, Jesus not so gently tells the disciples that they have no clue what is coming next for them, and it isn’t their job to know. That is up to the Father. Instead they are just along for the ride, they are simply witnesses to the activity and plans of God in the world. 

The disciples had no clue that they were about to preach the gospel in all kinds of languages to all kinds of people baptizing them by the thousands. Nor did they know that most of the early church communities would small groups of 12 or 25 people spread throughout the Roman Empire and would be ministered to by a former Pharisee and murderer of Christians who liked to write letters. They did not know their little group of followers would spawn generations upon generations of faith communities proclaiming the gospel to all the ends of the earth.

They had no idea what their path would be as Jesus ascended to the Father. 

Yet as John describes to us, Jesus knows that his followers don’t have a clue what is in store for them. They are dreaming of the return of rose-coloured glory days, of going back to some imagined time of greatness that is certainly better in their imaginations than the real thing. 

They cannot help but look back with nostalgia and hope for the glory days again. 

And yet as Jesus prays, he names the ways in which his disciples belong to each other, that their life together is a reflection of Christ, peek into the Trinity, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All along Jesus has been stitching this rag tag group together, shaping and moulding them for the next phase, the next chapter. Transforming them into this newly birthed community of the gospel. A community defined by the life of Christ, a community tied into the very death and resurrection of the One sent to save. 

That even as they have no idea where they are about to end up, Jesus has been preparing them to be what God needs them to be. 

A community of faith, 
of imperfect and flawed people 
who may not know where they are going, 
but who proclaim that the risen Christ 
is their way, their life and their truth. 
That the cross and empty tomb have changed them 
and all creation 
for the kingdom that has God envisioned. 

And so here today, what does this mean for us? 

We who long to return to normal, even as we begin to recognize that life as we knew it will not, cannot to be the same as it was. We come to the end of Easter, in the midst of this time of global uncertainty longing for comfort of the past. 

And we too are just as clueless about what comes next for us as the disciples were. No matter our desire to go back to normal, to go back to the glory days, to restore the kingdoms of our imaginings… there is no going back. And more importantly, we aren’t the one steering the ship anyways. 

Yet, Jesus’ reminds us today, with Pentecost on the horizon, that our future is known by God. And that we too are being prepared for what comes next for us. 

That Jesus is sticking us together into One Body, 
preparing us yet again to be new communities of faith, 
birthed into the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. 
That the cross and empty tomb redefine us, 
even in a world of declining churches, 
even in a world of pandemic closures… 
God is transforming us into the very body 
that will proclaim the Good News to the world, 
through whom God will proclaim 
forgiveness of sins and salvation in the waters, 
in whom God feeds the world with God’s own Body – the Body of Christ given for us. 

And so yes on this 7th Sunday of the most memorable Easter we have known, we are reminded again that God has the regular habit of setting us off in new directions when we least expect it. And that the destination is not for us to know, nor what things will look like when we get there. But only that God is the one leading us, that we belong to one another in Christ and that the sprit goes with us. And that Christ has been preparing us for this moment long before we even had a clue.

The season of Easter may be coming to an end…

but Christ promises us that this new resurrected life in this Easter community is only beginning. 

Amen. 

Unexpected Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

GOSPEL: John 10:1-10
Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… (Read the whole passage)

The early church understood the 7 week season of Easter to be like one great day of celebration. Time kind of gets mushy in Easter, unlike other seasons of the church year where we are so often counting the weeks as they go by. And while many comparisons to our pandemic isolation have been to the season of Lent, there have been also similarities to Easter. Disciples hiding out in upper rooms, sticking to small groups and avoiding crowds, time becoming mushy and hard to keep track of. We just might be living the most authentic Easter season of our lives. 

Today, we are four weeks into the season of Easter, nearly a month since first hearing about the women going to the tomb early on the first day of the week. And yet, today is the first time that we are moving on from that first day. We divert somewhat to familiar images of the pastoral Jesus. Psalm 23, and John 10. Shepherds and sheep. Comforting images of the love and care of God, poured out for us. 

The church that I grew up in had a stained glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd, a blonde hair blued-eyed Shepherd lovingly gazing at the lamb he is holding in his arms. An imagine imprinted on my mind, that often surfaces on this fourth Sunday of Easter, or when I hear psalm 23. 

And there is a certain amount of comfort and safety that we imagine into the image of the Good Shepherd, especially in times of struggle and hardship… such as in this moment in time. 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us another comforting image of the Shepherd, who is known by the sheep. The Shepherd who lays down as the gate to the pen to provide protection for the sheep. 

Yet, Jesus isn’t talking his disciples or the hungry crowds about the Shepherd, but rather the  Pharisees. The Pharisees who have just criticized him for healing the Blind man… a story that we heard only a few weeks in Lent. Jesus is speaking to those who bear responsibility for caring for the sheep, caring for the community. To the religious and community leaders who are balking at any change to the social order, even if it comes in the form of  healing a blind beggar in their midst.

As Jesus describes the familiar voice of the shepherd, he also describes the voice and motives of the thieves, bandits and strangers… labels he is applying to the religious leaders. Jesus suggests that not everyone charged with the care of the community is tending to that charge as they should. They are instead more concerned with the status quo, with keeping the power and control in their own hands and out of the hands of others…. Whether it is Jesus wantonly offering God’s love and care, or a blind man becoming self-sufficient. These are voices and leaders who are calling the sheep into danger for their own gain, their own selfish purposes. 

Does this sound at all familiar?

As we enter into week 8 of lockdown and staying at home, the calls to #OpenforBusiness are starting to get louder and louder. Here in Manitoba, we are beginning the slow yet still ambitious move of opening up some businesses tomorrow – hair cuts and restaurant patios and select other businesses will be aloud to open. Even as public health officers tell us it is isn’t exactly safe yet.

This pandemic moment has taught us a lot about the voices that we listen to, the voices who call us sheep to follow. And what is clear is that there are those in our world too, charged with caring for our communities who might not have our best interests in mind. 

And while Jesus declares that the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd, I am not so sure that it is easy for us to recognize. In fact, perhaps what is clear is that most of the voices out there are seeking something from us other than our wellbeing. Our votes, our dollars, our consumption, our attention, our productivity and labour… even our willingness to be sacrificed for the sake of profit and maintaining social order. And all with promises fo green pastures, still waters, prepared tables, and cups running over. 

Knowing the shepherd’s voice is one thing, hearing the shepherd’s voice at all is another. And if the Pandemic has made something clear, it’s that shepherds and their voices are not heard as often as they should be. 

So as Jesus declares that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice, we might be asking, do we really know it?

_______

We always hear Psalm 23 on Good Shepherd Sunday, but there is of course a reason far more common for us to hear this most familiar of psalms. 

Over the years, as I have presided at many funerals, I have often read Psalm 23 as I lead mourners into worship. Pall bearers and casket, followed by grieving family. And in that moment, we enact that what the familiar psalm describes. We walk together into the valley of the shadow of death.

You see the Good Shepherd does not promise us that everything is green pastures, still waters, and abundant tables and cups. Rather, the Good Shepherd is honest about the world, about the dangers and risks. The Good Shepherd tells us that the there are dark valleys ahead, there is the shadow of death in store. And there is no going back, no staying in the green pastures. There is only forward into our future.  

However, the Good Shepherd also promises to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Jesus promises that the sheep know the Shepherd’s voice not because the sheep are good sheep, but because the Shepherd is a Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd whose only concern is the well being and care of the sheep. The Good Shepherd who knows the sheep. The Good Shepherd who gathers and collects the confused and lost sheep, wherever we are going – green pastures or dark valleys. 

And as we navigate this shadow valley of pandemic, there have been voices emerging from the fray, voices whose only concern has been our health and well being. Shepherds who didn’t know they were shepherds only a few months ago. 

Often in this pandemic the voices of Chief Public Health Officers have cut through the fray of the voices out there calling us to follow. And these unexpected shepherds have surprised us by being singularly focused on our health and well-being…  voices that are seldom heard among the leaders of our world. Shepherds that tell us the truth, that do not promise all green pastures and still waters, but who warn of the valley of the shadows of death ahead. 

But Shepherd voices who also promise to lead us through. 

To lead us through the dark valleys to whatever lies in wait for us on the other side. 

To go with us all together. 

And this promise is of course the promise of the Good Shepherd. 

In this pandemic moment, our whole world feels as though it is gathered at the back of a church about to walk into the dark valley. Yet today, the Good Shepherd promises that we do not go alone, that the Good Shepherd will see us through, that the shadows of death will not be the end of our story, that there is life on the other side.  

This is the only voice, the only promise that really matters. 

And so on this fourth Sunday of Easter that on the surface it feels like we have moved on from Easter morning, the promise of the Good Shepherd takes us right back to the empty tomb, right back to glimpse of the other side of the shadow of death. 

The Good Shepherd comes to us in the middle of Easter because the Good Shepherd is an Easter Shepherd, a shepherd whose voice knows the sheep, whose voices knows us and knows what we need, a shepherd who has been through the valley of the shadow of death and promises us see us through, to the other side and into New Life. 

There is No Going Back to Normal after PanDemic or After Easter

** This sermon is a collaboration with The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, though we each took the second half in a different direction. Her sermon is also posted on this blog**

GOSPEL: John 20:19-31
…24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”… Read the whole passage

Today, we are 7 days on from the morning of the Empty Tomb. Yet, Easter has only just begun. Easter is not just a day, but 50 days. Not just a day, but an entire season of the church year. 50 days to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Christ. And each year, on the second Sunday of the season, we hear the same story. The story of the disciples hiding out in a locked room and Jesus appearing to them. The story of Thomas missing the whole thing, refusing to believe it and Jesus returning a second time, a week later to appear to Thomas. 

This morning we momentarily return to the day of the empty tomb. For us the women ran back to tell their story a week ago but for the disciples we encounter in hiding, they have just heard the report of the women, only minutes or hours ago. Yet, even with this news, they are still hiding. Hiding because of grief. Their teacher and friend has died, and like so many of us when on of our loved ones dies, they likely found it hard to summon the courage to go out into the world. 

But also hiding because of legitimate fear. Jesus has been arrested, tried and put to death by the religious authorities and the empire. The disciples don’t know if they are next, if the soldiers are out looking for them too. Jesus wasn’t the first Messianic revolutionary figure to be executed by the Romans, and they wouldn’t be the first group of followers hunted down by the authorities either. 

And so they are hiding, with good reason to do so. 

Maybe until now we didn’t fully understand or appreciate the disciples’ response to their situation. Maybe we couldn’t understand what legitimate reasons to be locked down might look like before this moment. 

But we have a better understanding now. Now that we are also locked behind our doors. Now that we fear for our health and safety, and we are following the orders of health and government bodies to stay home in order to stay healthy.

And so there in the midst of lockdown, as the disciples hide from the world in fear, Jesus appears. Jesus appears bringing peace and breathing on them the spirit. 

Then Jesus moves on. 

The disciples are left with a split experience. A new reality has been revealed to them, but still one that exists parallel to their current one. On the one side is the grief, danger, suffering and death. On the other surprising new life, a teacher and friend returned to them. 

And Thomas misses the whole thing. Unlike the others, Thomas isn’t hiding away on the day of the empty tomb. Perhaps he was dealing with the experience of crucifixion differently than the others, maybe he had accepted this new reality more quickly than the others. 

So when he returns to the group, and they share with him the news that the women had brought them, and then that they had experienced themselves first hand, Thomas is not on board. Thomas refuses to be pinball back and forth, to accept these two competing realities. 

It must have sounded like the most absurd thing Thomas had heard. This alternate reality that doesn’t line up with what he knows to be true: Jesus is dead. That’s the world he is living in. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would be alive. The disciples, his friends, are living in an alternate universe where Jesus is living, while he, Thomas is living in the world where that is simply not the case.

And we get it. For many of us, this world that we are living in seems unbelievable. It is not normal. 

As most of us are glued to the news on a daily basis, we can feel split between realities. As news producers try to soften the blow of the heavy stuff, we can be ping ponged between tragedy and light hearted stories revealing the human spirit. Case counts and death tolls, documentaries showing terrified hospital staff preparing for protected code blues, example of care homes abandoned by sick, terrified, under supported staff balanced off by stories of pots banging at shift change, rainbows and words of encouragement being pasted to windows, good samaritans braving grocery stores day after day to shop for quarantined seniors.

Split realities that hardly seem possible at the same time. 

It feels like we pulled back and forth between good news and bad news. Where each story we hear seems disconnected from the last. Where what was normal may never be again. We are trying, sometimes desperately so, to keep doing the things we’re used to doing in these new or adapted ways, while at the same time knowing that the world we are living in is not the same. Cannot be the same. 

It is almost as if we be believe that this pandemic moment is like a dream, an exception to reality. That life will soon go back to normal and we will all forget this awful time of forced physical isolation, this time of pandemic. 

Maybe rather than doubting that Jesus was alive, Thomas knew something that we haven’t quite figured out yet. 

There is no going back, there is no back to normal waiting for us on the other side. 

So after the empty tomb, after appearing behind locked doors, Thomas refuses to believe…

And then 7 days later, Jesus shows up again. Jesus shows up and brings again resurrection reality into existence, but this time in front of Thomas. 

Yet, Jesus doesn’t leave the two realities to exist side by side, at opposite ends of the room. Jesus slows down, and stands before Thomas and begins taking both worlds, both stories, both realities into himself. 

“See Thomas, here are my living hands AND the nail marks that they bear. Here is my breathing side AND the hole left by the spear.”

With arms wide and resurrected body on display, Jesus begins the work of tying the two stories together. 

“The suffering, betrayal, and grief that you are experiencing now, the crucifixion that you witnessed on Friday… My body still bears those marks” Jesus says. 

“And yet here I am.” Jesus says to Thomas and the others. “Here I am, in flesh, alive.”

Jesus ties together these experiences that seemed to be so far from each other. The story of crucifixion and death, of hiding behind locked doors in a dangerous world is now the same story as story of resurrection and new life, of empty tombs and impossibly to believe appearances. 

As Jesus stand before Thomas and the others, his resurrected body, scars and all, declares that their story suffering, sin and death is now the same story God’s story of resurrection and new life. 

It is the same way that Jesus stands before us, in the midst of pandemic. When the competing realities ping pong us between grief and hope, despair and release… Jesus reminds us again, that both stories belong to God.

Jesus reminds us that even in pandemic, that death tolls and rainbow window messages, that desperate conditions in care homes and pots banging at shift change, that frightened hospital staff and good samaritan shoppers, that all the good and bad, that all the tragic and hopeful, they all belong to God. 

That when the power of our own spirit is not enough to conquer the darkness, Jesus reminds us that he has gone first through to the other side. That Christ has conquered death, and will bring us through to New Life as well.

God is writing our story anew, and even though we feel like we are bouncing between realities, God is gathering our stories and us into the one story of New Life. The story that began in a manger, seemingly ended on a cross, yet continued on with an empty tomb, and with peace breathed behind locked doors and scars that show us the way to the other side. 

As Jesus stands before us with the scars and wounds of our life on his body, Jesus tells Thomas and us again that our hope lies in the one who makes room for all of creation, our hope lies in the one who brings all of our stories into God, and who brings us to New Life. 

Worship in the age of COVID-19 – Coming Together to Stay Apart

***This sermon can be viewed as a part of streaming worship on my congregation’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/sherparkwpg. ***

The Sermon starts at about 20:30 mark of the video

GOSPEL: John 9:1-41

...6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 (read the whole passage)

Okay…

So if you are feeling like this is a little weird raise your hands. It’s weird to be watching me on your phone, tablet, or computer, rather than sitting here in church, in your favourite pew with family and friends. 

It is weird for me too. Weird to be standing in a empty church, having worship with what feels like myself. I am talking to my phone like it is a person. 

But here we all are, on our own or with just immediate family. And for most of us, we probably haven’t spent much time with others during the course of the past week. The last 10 or so days have felt like the world has been turned upside down. It started two Wednesdays ago, I was watching the Oilers play the Jets (cheering for the Oilers, of course) when it was announced that the NBA had suspended its entire season. There was this feeling that things were going to change. 

Today, so many places are closed, public spaces, private businesses, schools and churches. Stay home as much as possible is the advice, the instructions from our leaders and public health officials. 

And so we are doing it for the sake of one another. We are staying home in order to keep our neighbour safe. Because any one case of COVID-19 might just be like a mild flu, or uncomfortable few days. But it can be deadly for the most vulnerable among us, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised. And too many of those cases at once can overwhelm the health care systems, as it already is in places like Italy. 

And so we stay home, and stay away. As as I like to put it, we are coming together to stay away. 

We are moving our social interactions to the phone, texts, emails and online. Someone tweeted a few days ago, “I didn’t expect to be giving up this much for Lent.”

And it is like a Lenten Fast… one that I hadn’t even really imagined was possible only 3 weeks ago when Lent began. We are fasting from in-person community, fasting from each other. 

Here in the church, we are fasting from the body of Christ. Fasting from being part of this community that gives us our identity as we gather week after week for worship. 

And we are also fasting from the Body and Blood of Christ. Not by our choice, but fasting none-the-less. It is weird how the Body of Christ that is the church is all mixed in with the Body Christ that is the Bread and Wine. Fasting from one means we fast from the other. 

So we look forward with joy to the time when we will gather, in-person, again to received one another as the body of Christ and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ – which is all mixed together into one. As my liturgy professor liked to say, “Swirling around the Cup are your siblings in the Body of Christ.”

As we continue our lenten journey in this new experience of worship, we have come a long ways. From the Valley of Ashes, to the desert with Jesus, to Nicodemus asking questions in the night, to the Samaritan woman at the well. Today, we hear the familiar story of the nameless blindman. 

The blind man who wakes up one day only to have Jesus stroll into his life, and turn his sight on. Instead causing a celebration in his community, it throws the people around the blindman into chaos. They want to know who did this to him, who just changed his fortune, his role and place in the community. You see as a blind person, he was the charge of the community to care for. It may have been pitiable, but he had a place in the social order. 

But Jesus threw that out window. 

And the religious leaders are angry, his parents are frightened, the community confused. 

Of course it isn’t about the man’s blindness. It is the disruption he represents to his community. If he could wake up one day and have his place in the world changed like this, could it happen to the rest of them?

This story takes on a whole new way of describing our world right now doesn’t it?

We are communities in chaos, communities wondering about what might happen to us, if we might wake up one day to find our world just tossed out the window. 

And in the midst of this chaos, it is hard for us to slow down and listen. The people around the blindman don’t really stop to hear his story, they want to know what or who caused this seemingly arbitrary change of fate. They are worried about comes next for them. They are seeking to find some way to control this agent of change. 

We are worried too about what comes next for us, and that makes it hard for us to slow down and hear each other’s stories. We are only looking for the data, the information that might give us some control over the forces of our world that affect us, changing everything we know. 

And interestingly the community in chaos stays in chaos, even at the end of this story. The blindman receiving his sight has changed them forever. 

But then Jesus comes back. 

He finds the blindman, or formerly blindman, again. 

Now remember the man had been blind from birth. Even as he was questioned by his community, he wouldn’t have known who he has talking to. Maybe he recognized voices, but he wouldn’t have known who, or even what, it was that he was looking at. 

So when Jesus comes back, he slows down. He asks the blindman what he believes, what he knows. And then he introduces himself. 

The very first person that the blindman comes to know by sight is Jesus. Because Jesus slowed down enough to know the blindman… first at the beginning and now at the end. 

In this new mode of existence, new way of being in the world, the first person that the blindman knows is Jesus. Even in the midst of the chaos of the community, even as people are fearful and panicking about what may come next, Jesus comes back for the formerly blind man, comes back to continue the transforming work of bringing the gospel to life. Not because the blindman had newly functioning eyes, but because this man now knew the Messiah, the one sent by God to save. 

And so it is with us. 

Even in the midst of our community chaos, even as we don’t know what might come next for us. 

Jesus is coming back for us. 

Even as this world terrifies us and we don’t feel like we recognize anything anymore. 

Jesus is coming back for us. 

Jesus is coming back for us, but also doing what Jesus has always been doing in us. Helping us to see anew, just who God is and where God is at work. Doing the work of transforming us for God’s new world. 

Jesus is helping us to see that new life comes in unexpected places, opening our eyes to know that even in the midst of the chaos, that new life comes into being, that Messiah is working to transform us and this world. 

So yeah, today is a weird day. 

The beginning of something we haven’t see before. And we don’t know what is coming next. 

But Jesus is strolling into our lives as well, right when we lest expect it. And Jesus will introduce himself to us, letting us know that he is the first person we will meet in God’s transformed world. 

Letting us know that we are not left on our own, but brought into the Body of Christ, scattered today, but still at home in God.

Amen

The woman at the well, fleeing deadly plagues, and the era of social distancing

GOSPEL: John 4:5-42

5[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (Read the whole passage)

In 1527, Martin Luther wrote an open letter entitled “Whether One May Flee a Deadly Plague” as the Bubonic Plague passed through Wittenberg. In it, he gives detailed advice on how to care for oneself and for our neighbours in a very difficult and trying situation.

He wrote: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person I shall go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

As you many of you have likely read, the letters coming from Bishops and from myself are not new ways of churches addressing a situation like the one we are facing with the outbreak of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The Church has been here before, many times over the past 2000 years.

And yet, there is something eerie and disconcerting about our Lenten journey this year. Usually, as spring encroaches on us, and we enter into this season of Lent, the wilderness is a primarily spiritual one, one of devotion and practice, prayer and personal piety. Yet this year, over the past days and weeks, we have entered into a Lenten wilderness of a wholly different sort. A social wilderness, a time of enforced distancing and isolation.

I cannot help but see a connection between where the world seemed to be last Sunday, or at least where we seemed to be last Sunday as we heard the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, with questions that one would only whisper in the dark to today. Today, where we meet Jesus in the middle of blinding noon day sun. The light has been flipped on revealing to us the Coronavirus and the widespread panic, fear and hysteria that come with it.

As we hear this story of the woman at the well on this third Sunday in Lent, we see a woman who seems almost familiar to us in the midst of our situation. A woman who has come to the water well alone, in the middle of the day. She seems to be practicing social distancing, maybe even self-isolation. She has come to fetch water at a time when no one would be at the well. Women normally come to the well first thing in the morning and again in the evening, and they came together. It was a social event.

Yet this woman is at the well alone, in the middle heat of the day. As we discover, her story, her circumstances are tragic or difficult. She has been married five times, and now under the care of one who is not her husband. Now, don’t make the mistake of reading some kind of impropriety into this woman, the punishment of adultery was stoning. A woman married 5 times, was almost certainly a victim of tragedy. A woman who had had 5 husbands die, or who could not produce children as a proper woman should. And the fact that she was with one who was not her husband likely meant that she was being cared for by the brother of her deceased husband who was probably already married.

She was dead weight in her world. An extra mouth to feed, a cursed wife whose husbands kept dying, a cursed woman whose body would not let her become a mother.

She was at the well alone, not by her own choice entirely. She may have felt like a cursed person, but the rest of the community around her almost certainly agreed.

Sounds familiar these days doesn’t it.

Cough and people stare at you with distain and fear. Happen to have some toilet paper from a shopping trip a week ago in your front entry, and dinner guests look at you like some kind of hoarder (that may or may not have happened at our house). Get back back from an international trip, and you are now required to self-isolate like a pariah.

Even in regular life, circumstance easily defines us. Lose your job, and you are an unemployed burdensome statistic. Spend time the hospital, and you become a body in a bed in a gown. Become a public official or celebrity, and you become the larger than life persona that you portray in your work.

We know what it is like to be defined by our circumstances, to become only some event, to be only some job, to be only some characteristic that is but one part of our lives. We know what it is to make the people around us that.

But Jesus just strolls up to the woman at the well in the middle of the day and asks for a drink.

When no one even wanted to go to the well with her, Jesus asks her for a drink.

It is so shocking that the woman cannot believe it. Here she is, a woman, a Samaritan, a social pariah and this man, a Jew, a rabbi comes and asks her for a drink.

So Jesus offers her a drink! Of course he does!

He says that she should ask him for living water.

Jesus refuses to be defined his circumstances. He refused to define this woman at the well by hers.

Instead, he offers his real and true self. He offers the incarnate God made flesh, the source of all life found in the waters of baptism.

And then he sees the woman, even though knowing her circumstances, her five husbands, and current living situation, her social isolation… he treats her as a human being, as a person needed dignity and respect, needing love and care, needing the gospel.

Jesus breaks through circumstance, and sees the woman as she truly is.

Sounds like just what we need these days too.

As our world and communities succumb to fear and hysterics, as we begin to see one another as simply the circumstances that surround us, as we retreat further and further away from ourselves, Jesus continues to break through to us.

Jesus breaks through to see us as who we are, to see the real us beyond our circumstances, beyond our fears and anxieties, beyond our disease and isolation. And Jesus is breaking through to us in the ways that Jesus has always done – in Word, Water and Bread and Wine.

But also in these days to come, in phone calls and texts between neighbours and friends, in groceries drop offs and mail pick ups by those who can do those things for those who cannot. Jesus is and will be breaking through to the real us, as we comfort one another in this time of heightened fear and anxiety by the care that we show for another, by helping us to see beyond circumstance to ways in which we can be good neighbours and good siblings in Christ.

Today, we worship not knowing if we will gather again next week, or for a while after that. And yet the church has been here before. This is not out first plague and it won’t be our last.

And so Jesus reminds us that we do not stop belonging to one another, we do not stop belonging to God. Jesus reminds us to break through circumstance, and to see and care for another, as we are able.

And here on this third Sunday of this extraordinary Lenten journey, Jesus strolls up to us in our moment of social distancing and self-isolation and ask for drink of water, knowing that what he has to give and what we will need is the water of life.

Amen.