Sunday, February 24, 2008

3 Lent

February 24, 2008
Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church
Lecanto, Florida

Today, in our very long Gospel reading, we find Jesus confronting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

More often than not, when we encounter a story like this in scripture, we don’t often think about what happened to some of these people after their experience with Jesus. Every so often, it might not hurt to ask ourselves: what happened to this woman at the well? Did she heed the words of Jesus to her, or did she go on in her old lifestyle? We know she shared the news with other Samaritans. But did she reform her life?

Well, there are actually some interesting stories about what might have happened to this Samaritan woman. What many Western Christians don’t know—and probably have never given a second thought to—is the fact that this Samaritan woman is revered now by the Eastern Church. They have actually given her a name. Traditionally, she is known now as St. Photini.

According to tradition, the belief is that St. Photini did, in fact, take Jesus’s words to heart. The story goes that she, along with five of her sisters, were baptized and that, following Jesus’s death, she went out to proclaim the Gospel. She was preaching the Gospel in Rome when the Emperor Nero began his persecution of Christians. She confronted the Emperor with her faith in and love for Christ, which simply enraged him. He had her imprisoned and tortured, but would not allow her to die. One night, as he lay in prison, begging for God to allow her to die, Jesus appeared to her just as he had at Jacob’s well. As he stood above her, he offered her the waters of everlasting life. The vision filled her with such joy, that, a few days later, she died singing her praises to God.

In the Orthodox Church, she is referred to as “equal to the Apostles,” which is saying a lot. There is a wonderful hymn that the Eastern Church sings to St. Photini

Illuminated by the Holy Spirit, All-Glorious One,
From Christ the Saviour you drank the water of salvation.
With open hand you give it to those who thirst.
Great-Martyr Photini, Equal-to-the-Apostles,
Pray to Christ for the salvation of our souls

Her feast day is, coincidentally, celebrated in the Orthodox Church this coming Tuesday, February 26.

It’s a great story and hopefully one that will help us all appreciate this Gospel story every time we ever read it or hear it. But, more importantly, is the message that is here for all of us as well.

When Jesus sits with Photini at the well, he offers not only her that water of life—he offers it to us as well. And we, in turn, like her, must “with open hand” give it “to those who thirst.”

To truly understand the meaning of water, here, though we have to gently remind ourselves of the land in which this story is taking place. Palestine was and is a dry and arid land. And in Jesus’s day, water was not as accessible as we take for granted these days. It came from wells that sometimes weren’t in close proximity to one’s home. The water that came from those wells was not the clean and filtered water we enjoy now, that we drink from fancy bottles. They didn’t have refrigeration, so often the water they drank was lukewarm at best. And sometimes it was polluted. People got sick and died from drinking it.

But despite all of that, water was essential. One died without water in that arid land. Water meant life. And so we have this issue of water in a story in which Jesus confronts this woman—Photini—who is obviously thirsty. Thirsty for water, yes, but she is obviously thirsty also for more. She is thirsty as well for love, for security, for stability, all of which she does not have.

Now, we have to be fair to St. Photini. For a woman to be without a man in her day would have meant that she would be without security, without a home, without anything. A woman at that time was defined by the men in her life—her husband or father or son. And so, widowed as many times as she was, she was desperate to find some reason and purpose in her life through the men in her life. Photini is thirsty. Thirsty for the water she is drawing from the well and thirsty for more than life has given her.

In a sense, we can find much to relate to in Photini. We too are thirsty. We might not be thirsty in the same way that Photini is. We, after all, are able to drink our fancy, cool, filtered mineral waters from nice bottles. We have other drinks—we have our coffees, and our sodas and our wines and liquors. We have plenty to drink and sometimes, especially with those wines and liquors, we drink to excess. But, no doubt, most of us are thirsty for more than we have. What we are drinking to quench our thirst might not be best for us.

In our lives we are no doubt looking for relationships, or money, or food, or alcohol or anything to fill that empty parched feeling within us. But we will never be quenched until we drink of that cool, clean water which will fill us where we need to be filled. That cool, clean Water is of course Jesus. He is the Water of which we drink to be truly filled. It is the Water that will become in us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

What better image to take with us in these long days of Lent? As we journey through the desert of Lent toward Holy Week, toward the darkness and violence of Good Friday, what better image can we cling to? Because that is what we are doing during Lent. We are traveling through the desert. We are walking through the arid wasteland of our own lives. We are journeying toward the Cross and the destruction, pain and death it brings. We are wandering toward that tomb, that dark, dank place.

We are St. Photini—parched and alone, thirsting for something more. In Lent, we bring ourselves—our fractured, shattered, uncertain, frightened, insecure selves—to the well, expecting only for a temporary quenching. But at Easter, that day we are longing for, that we are traveling toward, that we are striving toward despite our thirst—on that day we will find more than we expected to find.

On Easter, we will find Jesus, alive and vibrant, offering us water that will truly quench our thirst. At the empty tomb—that other well—he gives us the water that will fill us and renew us and make us whole and complete. There, he offers us the water that will wash away the grit and ugliness of all that we have done and all that we have failed to do, as we say to God in our confession of sins.

Like Photini, the Samaritan woman, we approach the well, trapped in our sinful ways. But, like Photini, we are able to leave the well of the Easter tomb a different person. We walk away from that tomb a transformed person—a person made whole. We walk away from that tomb remade into a saint.

So, as we approach Easter and the Living Water that pours forth from the tomb of Easter, let us drink fully of the water that is offered to us there. Let us drink deeply of Jesus, who offers himself to us fully and completely. And in that Water, we will find all that we desire.

Our insecurities will be washed away.

Our wounds will be cleaned and healed.

Everything we have done or failed to do will be made right.

That thirst that drives us and nags at us and gnaws at us, that drives us to drink from places where we should not be drinking, will finally—once and for all—be quenched.

And in that Living Water we will find Life—that Life that Jesus brings us on that Easter morning—a Life without death or suffering or wanting—a life which Jesus breaks wide open for us and shows us as more incredible than anything we fully appreciate or understand.

Jesus is there, offering himself for all. All we have to do is say, “Give me some of that water.” And it will be given to us. And those of us who drink of that water will never again be thirsty.


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