Spiritual Connections – Lent 3, 2023

Mar 12, 2023

Welcome to Spiritual Connections, our occasional newsletter offering theological perspective on what is going on in and around our Presbytery. Read, reflect, and share with those you think may appreciate these words.

For this season of Lent, we will be sending Spiritual Connections out weekly to our larger Presbytery contact list, as a resource for spiritual reflection in this season of reflection and preparation for Easter.

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John 4:5-42

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Today’s Spiritual Connections is from the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, PSNE General Presbyter and Acting Stated Clerk.

Three years this week.

It was three years ago this week (March 11, 2020) that the World Health Organization declared that we were in the early days of a pandemic.

Like everything else in life, I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I didn’t live in that “Oh, it’ll just be a few weeks, maybe a month tops of this,” denial-land that I hung out in for a little too long in my mind. I wish I had joined my husband on his winter break trip home to Colombia just a few weeks earlier in February 2020, because it would be a long time (way too long) before we got to see our family overseas again. I wish I knew how much trauma would happen so I would have been better prepared.

There are other things about the pandemic that I do not regret. I do not regret that it made me re-order my priorities personally and professionally. I do not regret that it pushed us to get chickens for our backyard and change our local shopping habits and relationships because we were worried about the food system. I do not regret all the extra family time we got to have. And I do not regret the way it made me take my relationships more seriously.

I miss the people I know who died of Covid-19 or during Covid-19 that we did not get to properly grieve. I am still angry about losing them, many of them senseless deaths – victims of bad timing pre-vaccine development, or forces in broken medical systems that let them down. I think the number is somewhere between 20-30, but there is a little bit of a losing track as a coping mechanism that I must admit began to happen along the way.

I am angry. I am angry about how complicit with death we seem to be. How careless so much of our society is with suffering and how willful in its ignorance it is. I am still mad about so-called “leaders” who let everyone down and how we have missed this once-in-a-generation opportunity to be different on a societal level, with new communitarian sensibilities and concerns. I am mad about how the pandemic laid bare our societal inequalities and for the most part we haven’t done anything real or systemic about these ways of living that are so out of line with our commitments as people of faith to the Gospel of Jesus.

How are you feeling this week? What do you remember, what do you wish you knew then that you know now? What do you regret? What makes you angry? What else is on your mind, in your heart? It’s worth it in a time like this to take an inventory. Take a step back. It is OK to grieve on an anniversary like this weekend, to feel the trauma. It is OK to take it slow.

The Gospel reading today is the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. This was a meeting of differences. Two people who were not supposed to interact with each other for a million different reasons. Interestingly, by this point in John’s Gospel, the disciples are beginning to get their act together. The author of the Gospel notes that they do not quiz Jesus about why he was talking to this woman, even though they were shocked. It’s one of the few times they do not say the wrong thing. For some reason they decide Jesus needs to eat at this particular moment and he reminds them (once again!) that the thing they are reacting to is not the right thing. They are thinking on the surface level and not at the depths of his ministry and actions. This moment for Jesus is not about food, or even water. It is about conversion for everyone on both sides of the fractured relationships of Jews and Samaritans and how they encounter God and think about the return of the Messiah.

As we imagine what we have been through the last three years, this passage about a traumatized woman – five marriages in a society where women have no agency to end a marriage, meaning she was either widowed or abandoned five times – has much to offer us. It tells of a Jesus who is about healing relationships, providing care in a time of trauma and ignoring societal demands of who is and who is not worthy of care. The Gospel of Jesus changes this Samaritan woman, and she becomes the primary evangelist in John’s Gospel.

We spend a lot of time in our society drawing lines between people and groups. We’ve been doing this for generations. Jesus is offering a different Way, a different teaching. These lines have only gotten stronger during the pandemic. Maybe we need to break them down, erase and destroy them as a sign of being people of the Way of Jesus. It seems to be that we need to be people who are beginning to come out of the other side of this nightmare made new, reborn and ready to be serious about Jesus. Maybe, just maybe?

Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana wrote about Year 3 of the pandemic this week in her blog, The Blue Room: 

“I had a crazy irrational wish that when this was over, we could have a big massive group hug (those of us who wanted one), all of us who survived with our humanity intact, which I prayed would be as many of us as possible. I wanted to dance in the streets and embrace total strangers and weep. But it didn’t end that way. There was no V-E Day. Pandemics peter out, a decrescendo, not a cymbal crash. So we didn’t get the catharsis we needed. But maybe that’s OK too. Maybe a stark before and after doesn’t suit us. Because I’d like to take our gentleness, our fragility, and slide into what’s next. Anyway. You made it. Millions didn’t make it, but you did.  You made it, even if you’re still learning what the “it” is.”

Come and meet the Messiah says the Samaritan woman. He told me everything I ever needed to know. I pray that this third week of Lent will be a time of transformation for you. 


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