Monday, 9 March 2020

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 15 March 2020,
the Third Sunday in Lent

The Samaritan woman at the well … an icon in Arkadi Monastery in the mountains above Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 15 March 2020, is the Third Sunday in Lent.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are:

The Readings: Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-11; John 4: 5-42.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Samaritan woman at the well … an icon in the parish church in Aghios Georgios in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Introducing the readings:

The Gospel readings in the Revised Common Lectionary through Year A are drawn, primarily, from Saint Matthew’s Gospel. However, there are exceptions, including four of the six Sundays in Lent (Lent II, III, IV and V), when the Gospel readings are from Saint John’s Gospel:

Lent II (8 March 2020): John 3: 1-17: Jesus meets Nicodemus by night

Lent III (15 March 2020): John 4: 5-42: Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar

Lent IV (22 March 2020): John 9: 1-41: Jesus meets a blind man who is healed at Siloam

Lent V (29 March 2020): John 11: 1-45: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in Bethany.

All these are marginalised people in the eyes of the Gospel reader:

Nicodemus is in the dark, and later, before darkness falls, claims the body of the crucified Christ and helps to bury him (see John 19: 38-42).

The Samaritan woman is an outsider because of her gender, ethnicity, language and lifestyle, yet she becomes one of the great pre-Resurrection missionaries, for ‘many … believed in Jesus because of this woman’s testimony’

The blind man is marginalised, not simply because of his physical condition, but because he is believed to have inherited ancestral guilt, and when he is healed he is driven out, but when he meets and sees Jesus again, he declares: ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worships him.

Lazarus is dead, but his death brings Martha to proclaim, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah.’ And because of this miracle, many of the people present ‘believed in him.’

Each of these Gospel stories is an invitation to move from darkness to light, from unbelief or past beliefs to faith, from seeing to doing. And each reading moves us closer and closer to Jerusalem, to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, through Lent to its climax on Easter Day.

On behalf of the Biblical Association for the Church of Ireland (BACI), Dr Margaret Daly-Denton has prepared Caring for the Garden of the Earth, a five-part Bible study for Lent 2020. This study, which has been commended in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe by Bishop Kenneth Kearon, draws on readings in Saint John’s Gospel, including some of these Gospel readings this year.

Next Sunday’s readings challenge us to ask how we challenge God and put him to the test, and ask us where we find refreshment from God, where we find living water and hope. This Lent, we are challenged to ask ourselves: where do we find faith and new life?

'Strike the rock, and water will come out of it' (Exodus 17: 6) … water flowing into a fountain at Myli restaurant in Platanias, near Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Exodus 17: 1-7:

When the people fled slavery in Egypt, they journey in stages through the wilderness, and each stage their faith is tested or they try to test God too in the wilderness.

In this reading, they are at Rephidim, an oasis in the Negev or Sinai desert, but there is no water and the well has run dry. In their plight, they wonder whether they, their children, and their animals are about to die of thirst. Would they not have been better off in slavery in Egypt?

This is a trying time for Moses, and he tells God so. What is he going to do? He is worried that they might even stone him to death.

But, instead of rebuking Moses, or rebuking the people, God guides Moses to the rock at Horeb, where he strikes the rock and water pours forth and the people may drink.

The God who gave them manna or bread from heaven to eat in the wilderness now gives them water to drink.

The names Massah and Meribah (verse 7) mean to test and to quarrel. The people have tested God and quarrelled with him. Now they are tested: Is the Lord among them?

‘The heights of the mountains are his also’ (Psalm 95: 4) … snow in springtime on the White Mountains or Lefka Ori above Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 95:

Psalm 95 is known to many as the canticle Venite, which is used regularly at Morning Prayer (see the Book of Common Prayer, pp 87-88, 103-104, 118-119, 702-703). The name Venite is derived from the Latin version of the opening words, Venite, exultemus Domino, an invitation to worship the Lord.

If your parish sings the canticles, this is an appropriate opportunity to sing this canticle. If your parish is using the canticle Venite, it should use all verses, and not just verses 1-17.

This is one of the royal psalms (Psalm 93-99), praising God as the king of his people. Psalm 95 identifies no author, although Hebrews 4: 7 attributes it to David, and it is quoted in a number of places in the Letter to the Hebrews.

This psalm also recalls the incident in our first reading (Exodus 17: 1-7), for God is praised as ‘the rock of our salvation’ (verse 1), who cared for our ancestors in faith during their 40 years wandering in the wilderness (verse 10), and put God to the test:

O that today you would listen to his voice:
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
on that day at Massah in the wilderness,
‘When your forebears tested me, and put me to the proof,
though they had seen my works.’ (verses 8-9)

This God we are called to worship is the supreme god, worthy of worship him, who is in maker of heaven and earth. Recalling the time their ancestors in faith spent in the wilderness, the people are reminded that he moulded the dry land, and not just the dry places in the wilderness, and that all water is created by him, from the water of the springs to the waters of the sea.

Generations may pass, but God remains faithful to us, and we are called to be faithful to him.

The seven virtues depicted in a window in the north transept in Saint Colman's Cathedral, Cobh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Romans 5: 1-11:

The Apostle Paul reminds his readers that there are three consequences of finding faith in God through Christ. We find:

● ‘peace with God’ (verse 1)
● ‘access to … grace (verse 2)
● ‘hope … of glory’ (verse 2)

Our present sufferings are not a judgment against us, but help to build our Christian character, leading to the gifts of:

● endurance
● character
● hope
● love

Christ’s death shows God’s unconditional love for us, for Christ died while we were still sinners and estranged from God. Through Christ, we have been reconciled with God.

An icon of the Samaritan Woman at the well above a well in the cloisters of Arkadi Monastery in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

John 4: 5-42:

Christ has arrived in Samaria on his way from Judea to Galilee (see verses 3, 54). He is tired by his journey and the noon-day heat, while the disciples go into the city of Sychar to buy food, he rests at Jacob’s Well. Legend said that water rose to the top of this well for Jacob and overflowed.

In those days, rabbis did not speak to strange women in public and Jews considered Samaritans ritually unclean. So, this woman is surprised by Jesus’ request: ‘Give me a drink.’

The woman is surprised by this request, but Jesus responds, telling her that if only she knew who is asking for water, she would be the one asking for a drink, ‘and he would have given you living water.

The woman misunderstands what Jesus is saying, just as Nicodemus misunderstand what Jesus was saying in the reading the previous Sunday. She wonders, if Jesus is expecting a miracle like Jacob’s miracle of overflowing spring water, why he has no bucket.

Jesus contrasts the water from the well with ‘water gushing up to eternal life.’ Still she does not understand, yet she now asks for this water.

They then discuss her marital status, which may be a discussion about the Samaritans are wedded religiously to the five books of the Torah or the Pentateuch, which the Samaritans insisted constituted the entire canon of revealed scripture.

The woman realises that Jesus is a prophet of some sort, and so she asks him to resolve a religious dispute of the day: Samaritans and Jews share the same religious ancestry, but Samaritans worship God on Mount Gerizim, while Jews worship God on Mount Zion or Jerusalem. Who is right?

Jesus tells her the time is coming when debates like this will be irrelevant. God will be worshipped spiritually and truthfully.

When the woman says she is waiting for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus tells her: ‘I am he.’

Just then, the disciples return from their search for food in Sychar, although they may have come back with nothing. They are taken aback by the conversation they come upon, but meanwhile the woman rushes off, leaving her water jar behind, to tell people in Sychar about the amazing man she has met.

Because of this woman’s testimony, many of the people in Sychar believe, and she brings them (literally) to Christ, and they come to believe for themselves that Christ is ‘truly the Saviour of the world.’

‘Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city’ (John 4: 28) … water jars by a well in Argiroupoli in the mountain in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Reflecting on the Gospel reading:

The Samaritans are religious and cultural outsiders for the Jewish people in the New Testament period. Although these two people share the same land, the Samaritans are strangers and outsiders. Although they share faith in the same God and share the same Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the Samaritans are seen as having a different religion. But Jesus tries to break down those barriers.

For example, the Good Samaritan is not a stranger but is the very best example of a good neighbour (Luke 10: 29-37). Among the Ten Lepers who are healed, only the Samaritan returns to give thanks, and this ‘foreigner’ is praised for his faith (Luke 17: 11-19).

In this story in Saint John’s Gospel, the Disciples are already doing something unusual: they have gone into the city to buy food; but this is no ordinary city – this is a Samaritan city, and any food they might buy from Samaritans is going to be unclean according to Jewish ritual standards.

While the Disciples are in Sychar, Jesus sits down by Jacob’s Well, and begins talking with a Samaritan woman who comes to the well for water. And their conversation becomes a model for how we respond to the stranger in our midst, whether they are foreigners or people of a different religion or culture.

Jesus presents the classical Jewish perception of what Samaritans believe and how they worship. The Samaritans accepted only the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch or Torah – as revealed scripture. For their part, Jews of the day pilloried this Samaritan refusal to accept more than the first five books of the Bible by claiming the Samaritans worshipped not one the one God revealed in the five books but five gods. Jesus alludes to this – with a sense of humour – when he says the woman had five husbands.

In other circumstances, a Jewish man would have refused to talk to a Samaritan woman or to accept a drink form her hands; any self-respecting Samaritan woman would have felt she had been slighted by these comments and walked away immediately. Instead, the two continue in their dialogue: they talk openly and humorously with one another, and listen to one another.

Jesus gets to know the woman and she gets to know Jesus.

All dialogue involves both speaking and listening – speaking with the expectation that we will be heard, and listening honestly to what the other person is saying rather than listening to what our prejudices tell us they ought to say.

When the Disciples arrive back, they are filled with a number of questions but are so shocked by what is happening before them that they remain silent. Their silence reflects their inability to reach out to the stranger.

But there are other hints at their failure and their prejudices: the woman gives and receives water as she and Jesus talk, but they fail to return with bread for Jesus to eat and they fail to feed into the conversation about faith and about life.

They are still questioning and unable to articulate their faith, but the woman at least recognises Jesus as a Prophet. They made no contact with the people in Sychar, but she rushes back to tell the people there about Jesus. No one in the city was brought to Jesus by the disciples, but many Samaritans listened to what the woman had to say.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well ... a modern Greek icon in a recent exhibition in the Fortezza in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A note on tradition

Orthodox tradition names the woman at the well in John 4 as Saint Photini (Svetlana in Russian), and honours her as ‘Equal to the Apostles.’ Her name means ‘light,’ because she received the light from the Christ the Light-Giver, and she spread it wherever she went.

It is said that she was baptised after the resurrection.

Her two sons, Victor and Josiah, and her five sisters, Anatolia, Phota, Photida, Paraskeva and Kyriake, all followed her into faith in Christ and her zealous apostolic witness, ministry and mission. They went to Carthage in North Africa, and there they were arrested for sharing the Gospel. They were taken to Rome to suffer before Nero.

It is also said that Saint Photini brought Nero’s daughter, Domnina, to faith in Christ. All of them were martyred after being cast into prison and being tortured at the hands of Nero’s officers.

Because of her testimony, it is said, Saint Photini was thrown into a well, and buried alive in Smyrna (Izmir) in Anatolia, the location of one of the Seven Churches of the Book of Revelation. And so she entered into the Kingdom of the never-ending Day of the Lord.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well … a fresco in the parish church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Some points for discussion:

The former Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, wrote in one of his books:

‘The Hebrew Bible contains the great command, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), and this has often been taken as the basis of biblical morality. But it is not: it is only part of it. The Jewish sages noted that on only one occasion does the Hebrew Bible command us to love our neighbour, but in 37 places it commands us to love the stranger. Our neighbour is one we love because he is like ourselves. The stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like ourselves’ (Faith in the Future, p 78).

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a model for all our encounters with people we see as different or as strangers.

Am I like the Disciples, and too hesitant to go over and engage in conversation with the stranger who is at the same well, in the same shop, at the same bus stop?

If I am going to enter into conversation with the stranger, am I open to listening to them, to talking openly and honestly with them about where they come from and what they believe?

When the conversation is over, will they remain strangers?

How open am I to new friendships?

In another place, Rabbi Sacks, now Lord Sacks, writes:

‘It is easy to love our neighbour. It is difficult to love the stranger … A neighbour is one we love because he is like us. A stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like us. That is the Torah’s repeated and most powerful command. I believe it to be the greatest religious truth articulated in the past 4,000 years’ (Radical Then, Radical Now, p 92).

This is not marginal to our understanding of faith either. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews advises us: ‘Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’ (Hebrews 13: 1-12).

And how does this link with Lent and how we are preparing to follow Christ to Good Friday and Easter Day?

The fifth of the seven last words of Christ on the Cross is: ‘I am thirsty.’ It is known traditionally as ‘The Word of Distress.’

Commentators regularly compare the thirst of Christ on the Cross with his request he makes to the Samaritan woman at the Well: ‘Give me a drink’ (John 4: 7), and with the promise that follows: ‘those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty’ (John 4: 14).

In expressing his thirst out loud in that cry from the cross, Christ shows his humanity and his humility. In expressing such a basic need, he shows his solidarity with all those in humanity, living or dying, healthy or sick, great or small, who are in need and who in humility are forced to ask for a cup of water (see Matthew 10: 42).

In his thirst, the dying Christ seeks a drink quite different from water or vinegar, as when he asks the Samaritan woman at the well: ‘Give me a drink’ (John 4: 7). Physical thirst on that occasion was the symbol and the path to another thirst – the thirst that leads to the conversion of the Samaritan woman.

On the cross, Christ thirsts for a new humanity to be formed and shaped through his incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and that looks for his coming again.

The thirst of the cross, on the lips of the dying Christ, is the ultimate expression of that desire of baptism to be received into the Kingdom of God. Now that desire is about to be fulfilled. With those words, Christ confirms the ardent love with which he desires to receive that supreme ‘baptism’ to open to all of us the fountain of water which really quenches the thirst and saves (see John 4: 13-14).

The Samaritan Woman at the Well … an icon in the Church of Aghios Nikolaos Church in Vathy on the island of Samos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 4: 5-42 (NRSVA):

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 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.) 10 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.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.’ 15 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.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17 The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25 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.’ 26 Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

27 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?’ 28 Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32 But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33 So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34 Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 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. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 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 Saviour of the world.’

‘Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well’ … a working well gives its name to To Pigadi, a restaurant in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Violet

The canticle Gloria may be omitted in Lent.

Traditionally in Anglicanism, the doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Collect may be said after the Collect of the Day until Easter Eve

The Collect of the Word:

O God, the fountain of life,
to a humanity parched with thirst,
you offer the living water that springs from the Rock,
our Saviour Jesus Christ:
stir up within your people the gift of your Spirit,
that we may proclaim our faith with freshness
and announce with joy the wonder of your love.
we ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:

‘The sea is his, for he made it’ (Psalm 95: 5) … sunset on the sea at Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

Exodus 17: 1-7:

607, As pants the hart for cooling streams
606, As the deer pants for the water
645, Father, hear the prayer we offer
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me

Psalm 95:

346, Angel voices ever singing
327, Christ is our corner stone
687, Come, let us praise the Lord
689, Come, sing praises to the Lord above
690, Come, worship God who is worthy of honour
360, Let all the world in every corner sing
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
529, Thy hand, O God, has guided

Romans 5: 1-11:

215, Ah, holy Jesu, how hast thou offended
218, And can it be that I should gain
294, Come down, O love divine
550, ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’
268, Hail, thou once–despisèd Jesus
671, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
358, King of glory, King of peace
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
429, Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
618, Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
636, May the mind of Christ my Saviour
621, O Love divine, how sweet thou art
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

John 4: 5-42:

411, Draw near and take the body of the Lord
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
330, God is here! As we his people
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
576, I heard the voice of Jesus say
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
303, Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me
339, Saviour, send a blessing to us

Link:

The Revd Kieran O’Mahony’s commentary on these readings is available HERE.

The Venetian well near the Porta Guora in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000).

A hidden well and pitcher in a colourful side alleyway near the Institute for Mediterranean Studies in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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