I was lucky to be preaching yesterday in two of the churches in our parish. And I was very lucky that the lectionary placed the story of the woman at the well in John 4 in the middle of Lent. In a way, what a shocking story! Shocking, that Jews should cross Samaria to reach Galilee, shocking that a rabbi should sit alone with a woman, shocking that she engages him in theological debate… And pleasantly shocking that she can see beyond her own religious expectations and think differently! God does choose the most unexpected witnesses, don’t you think? Like us, for instance!
Shocking, the amazing generosity of God who calls us his children and offers us new life, the living water freely given by Christ, the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of God that lives in us and transforms us, the Spirit that weaves patterns in the fabric of our lives, much in the manner of an intricate Celtic knot, no beginning, no end, but binding us to God in love. The Spirit that restores, nurtures our faith and makes disciples of us.
Symbolically, the woman at the well leaves behind her water jar, which represents anything that might hold her back. She goes into the city, and invites her fellow townspeople to their own encounter with Jesus. She responds to Jesus in such a way that leads Jesus to reveal his true identity to her; in doing so, her own identity evolves. So we learn from the Samaritan woman that in our own encounters with Jesus, we are not only changed, but what God reveals to us changes as well. We, too, can respond to God in such a way that God will abide in us. But first, we must drink of that living water.
And how will we receive the Spirit? Is there enough room at this time in our lives for this amazing gift? What will we leave behind? For surely, if we want to take Jesus up on his offer of living water, we need to get rid of the stale, mouldy, stagnant water we’ve been living off all this time. In the great spring clean that is Lent, forget the wine and the chocolate! What is it that we can give up now, significantly, to be closer to God? This Gospel story, in the middle of Lent, reminds us that sometimes, God takes massive action to reach out to us, and equally, we need to take massive action to invite God in and let God abide in us. Like opening wide all the windows, and letting the Spirit blow away the old cobwebs in our lives, letting the Spirit run free and wash clean every corner of our existence. Letting go of our excess baggage, and coming to God as we are, to be refreshed, restored. We are reminded that actually, Lent is the time of year for big decisions and choices. We are invited to choose a great renewal, dying to the old, being born to the new, and coming to the foot of the cross at the end of Lent, free from what weighs us down and ready to rejoice fully with God in the celebration of the resurrection.