March 19, 2017
+ So, I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this much from the pulpit, though I have discussed I know with many of you one on one. But…two years this coming May, I made a decision that was, for me, an important one. Two years ago in May, I decided then to not partake of alcohol any longer. I mean—none. Zero. Not even a sip.
It was not an easy decision for me to make. I liked partaking of my cocktails, as many of you know. I liked the social aspects of drinking. But…I suddenly, physically, was not able to drink alcohol any more. Every time I did, I get physically sick.
At the time, two years ago, I was not 100 percent happy to give up drinking. And I sort grumbled about it and pouted about it for a while.. But, after a while, I discovered that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have never felt better!
The bigger issue for me was navigating my social life without alcohol. I soon discovered non-alcoholic beers (which weren’t as bad as I initially thought), as well as the wonderful world of mocktails. (They’re actually pretty tasty).
Giving up alcohol, however, much like when I gave up meat or dairy, makes one especially conscious in many ways of the ways one can use and sometimes misuse such things. And yes, we can be abusive not only how we drink, but also how we eat. Yes, I missed alcohol, and meat, and dairy. For a while. But after so long, the “new normal” took hold. And now, I can’t imagine those things in my life at all.
Now, as I say that, I realize this is all a matter of a privileged person talking about giving up something. These are what we call “First World Problems.” In a world in which people are starving and thirsting, in a world in which people are suffering from real addiction to substances and food, I realize that my crowing about giving up alcohol sounds a bit shallow. And I apologize if it does.
But it also has given me a unique outlook on those people are starving and thirsting, as well as those people who are suffering addictions to such things. I realize that, for the most part, thirst, for example, just like real hunger, is one of those things we simply don’t worry about too much in our lives in our privileged Western world.
Most of us don’t physically thirst. We have our coffees, our clean water, our water machines and water tanks, not to mention our sodas and our recreational alcohol. And so, for the most part, it’s a luxury for most of us to give up things like soda and alcohol, even if we’re addicted to them.
There’s no doubt about it: so much of our life our life revolves around what we drink, that thirst very rarely ever plays into our lives anymore. But although we might not thirst for liquid often in our lives, we do find ourselves thirsting. We do thirst for knowledge, we thirst for justice, we thirst for fulfillment, we thirst for truth. And we definitely thirst for spiritual truth.
And I think that’s very close to what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel. In our very long Gospel reading, we find Jesus confronting this 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 following 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? We will never know.
But, what is more important is the message that is here for all of us. When Jesus sits with the woman 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 an arid land. And in Jesus’ 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. There was certainly no in-door plumbing. 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—they wouldn’t have understood what an ice cube was—so often the water they drank was lukewarm at best. And sometimes it was polluted. People got sick and died from drinking it. Which is why people drank alcohol—especially wine.
But despite all of that, water was essential. One died without water in that arid land. Water meant life. In that world, people truly understood thirst. They thirsted truly for water.
And so we have this issue of water in a story in which Jesus confronts this woman—who is obviously and truly thirsty. Thirsty for water, yes, but—as we learn—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 her. 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.
This woman is truly a broken woman. She 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 this woman. We too are broken people, as you have heard me preach again and again during this season of Lent so far. We too are thirsty.
As broken people, we are thirsty for relationships, for money, for food, for alcohol, for anything to fill that empty parched feeling within our broken selves. And as broken people, we find that as much as we try to quench that thirst, it all seems to run right out of us. We find that 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 Christ. 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, spiritually thirsty 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, thirst, pain and death it brings. We are wandering toward that tomb, that dark, dank place. We are that woman at the well—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. We find glimpses of this Easter feast in the Eucharist we celebrate together.
Here too we our thirst is quenched in the blood shed from the well of the broken body of Jesus. Here we too drink to quench our thirst. Like the Samaritan woman, we approach the well of this altar, trapped in our own brokenness. But, like her, we are able to leave the well of this altar and of the Easter tomb different people.
We walk away from this altar and that tomb transformed people—a person made whole. We walk away no longer fractured people. We walk away remade into saints.
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 there, on Good Friday, there on Easter morning, and here on this altar this morning. 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. Our brokenness will be made whole.
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.