A Homily for Holy Communion on
Monday , 5th of March, 2018, 9 a.m.
for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford
Exodus 17:1-7 ~ the Israelites whinge at Rephidim
John 4:5-42 ~ the Samaritan Woman at the Well
Living Water ~ if you ask
+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Both our readings today are about water, and water’s been making itself all too apparent lately. It’s only when it does, when there’s too much of it, or too little, that we stop taking it for granted. My eyes were opened to this one time when I was a curate in Romford. It was a vision shared by the parish mystic – every church should have one. She was called Grace, and never was a soul more truly named. Her mystical experiences seem to have begun after she was widowed, quite late in life, and when I knew her she was in her late 80s. She went on to be 100. She shared her visions not to pull rank, or display spiritual depth or athleticism, but to cheer us up – principally the clergy, and usually in the church porch after Sunday service. One of her most memorable was a vision of a whicker basket, on her knees, full of water, and the fresh, pure, smell of it rising up. “So”, she’d say in the church porch, “that was the water of life, dear. Wasn’t that lovely?” And she’d amble off on her way home.
The story of the woman at the well is about the water of life and, being S. John’s Gospel, it’s also about everything else. The older I get, the more I hear and read the Scriptures, the more unfamiliar they become, and things that were always there emerge. It struck me anew how funny the narrative is, almost like a dialogue in panto. The Scriptures are more comical than I ever used to realise. Out of the banter between the Samaritan woman and Jesus emerges a hitherto unspoken need – a need for a prophet, a need for the Messiah. And Jesus replies “I AM” in that way he always has when S. John wants to tell us we’ve got to a good bit.
The need of the Israelites at Rephidim is more immediately practical – the Samaritan woman already had a well-full of water, all she needed was to collect it in her bucket, but the Israelites have no such thing. As so often in their long journey through the desert – and the Wilderness of Sin (and how marvellous is that, a joke that only works in English, lurking in the Hebrew all those centuries for us to find it!) – they whinge and become querulous, and frankly accuse Moses of a rip-off, bringing them out into the desert to die of thirst, and Moses despairs of them. Sometimes it seems Moses really doesn’t like them very much. He re-names the place Massah and Meribah, after the testing, quarrelsome, people who have demanded water from the rock.
And the thing is, they got it. Everyone in these stories gets what they want. The Samaritan woman doesn’t even realise what it is until she gets chatting to Jesus, then she rushes off and tells her friends, who come out to see and hear for themselves. But what of Jesus? His friends come back from town and tell him he must need something to eat – how Jewish is that? – but he’d asked for a drink, and as the story unfolds, he doesn’t get one. But – and for this sharp observation I am indebted to Dean Martyn Percy of Christ Church, in a sermon for Unity Week at Headington Quarry a couple of years ago – notice that when the woman rushes off to town to tell everyone she’s met the Messiah, she leaves her bucket behind. So Jesus can help himself to his drink after all.
The Good News of the Living Water is that God will give us what we want – all we have to do is ask. And keep an eye open for a bucket.