Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

And so it begins.  We who have been keeping Lent these forty days are coming to Lent’s fulfillment.  We know it’s been a most interesting and, well, different Lent.  I mean, that’s about the best we can say of it, right?  I keep thinking back to Ash Wednesday with the throngs of crowds who came in and out of the church all day for our Masses and prayer services.  I, for one, didn’t have an inkling of the fact that, less than three weeks after that, our whole world would have gone crazy.  And now we’re sheltered in place, keeping our social distance, really fasting in a whole new way.  We’re fasting from social interaction, we are fasting from sacraments, we are fasting from in-person worship and prayer, we’re fasting from touch and embrace and so much more.  

In these days, though, I know I have had occasion to reflect on the things that really matter.  I’ve been sustained by the presence of God in my life, giving me strength to confront challenges I never thought I could handle, or would have to.  I’ve prayed with people over the phone for the first time I can remember.  I’ve found new ways to tell family, friends, and parishioners how much I love them.  

Over the course of this week, we will gather – virtually, of course – several times to mark the events that have won our salvation.  On Thursday, we will gather at 7pm to celebrate the Lord’s Supper: that night when he gave us the Eucharist and the priesthood so that he would be among us until the end of time.  On Friday, we will gather at 3pm to revisit our Lord’s Passion, to adore from our homes the Cross which was the altar on which he sacrificed his life for ours.  And on Saturday, we will bless our Easter food at 11am and then come together, virtually, at 8pm to recount the stories of our salvation and welcome the Resurrection, rejoicing with all of the Church on that most holy night.  No Catholic should ever miss these incredible liturgies: they are in fact the reason we are a Church and they highlight our mission in the world.  If you struggle to find the meaning in life, these celebrations will help you on the way.

I want to encourage you to enter into these celebrations in your homes.  On Thursday, perhaps have bread and wine on a table near the place you’re watching Mass.  Share it after Mass not as Eucharist, of course, but as a remembrance of what Jesus set forth for our salvation.  On Friday, have a cross nearby that you can reverence during the Adoration of the Holy Cross part of the liturgy.  On Saturday, light a candle as we will at the beginning of Mass to recall that Christ is the light that burns through the darkness.  I encourage you to take the journey through Holy Week in a special way, with fervent prayer for a cure for this virus that we might be together again.  Let us keep that as our special intention during our Holy Week journey together.

Today’s Passion reading recalls what Jesus came to do in our world.  Just a few days before our reading took place, Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the city of the center of the Jewish religion, the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he entered to the adulation of throngs.  Cloaks were thrown down in the street, the people waved palms and chanted “Hosanna.”  It seemed like Jesus’ message had finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who had long been yearning for a messiah to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer.  Instead, he preached forgiveness and mercy and real justice, and he healed people from the inside out.  He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day.  He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins.  It wasn’t a message that was particularly welcome; it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death.  Enough of this, they say; the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker.  Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas.  As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this?  Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord?  Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert?  Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire?  Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message was made clear?  Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours?  Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus?  Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong?  Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms?  Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those.  It was me.  Because it’s my sins that led Jesus to the Way of the Cross.  It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God.  And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life.  And you.

He gave himself for us.

Holy Hour: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Why did you doubt?

This is one of those Saint Peter stories in the Gospel that sometimes causes preachers to give Saint Peter a hard time about his “little faith.”  I think Saint Peter displayed great faith here, although with an admittedly somewhat-rocky execution.  And I think this wonderful little story – one of my favorite Gospel stories – speaks to us in this very ponderous and difficult time, as our world struggles with a pandemic with seemingly no end nor cure in sight.  In times like this, we people of faith have special recourse to the Gospel and the saints, those same faithful friends who accompany us in all the good times and bad times of our lives.  All the more so now.

So I think this story shows Saint Peter doing three things right, and these right things are models for us people of faith in a time like this.

First, he goes to Jesus.  Realizing that what they originally took to be a ghost was, in fact, their Lord, Peter brazenly offers to come to Jesus on the water.  Why?  We could certainly impute all sorts of motives to Peter, maybe even ascribe it to folly.  But what’s right about this is that he wanted to be with Jesus, and Jesus wasn’t in the boat.  In the midst of a storm, he knew it was better to be with the Lord.  

I don’t know about you, but when I look around, it’s as stormy as I ever want to see the world right now.  We can go all sorts of places.  We can watch the wrong Netflix movies, or sit on the couch all day, or spend too much time on the internet, or stand in front of the refrigerator a million times.  But none of that is healthy.  You need to go to Jesus.  And I know that seems impossible when church is closed and you can’t receive the sacraments.  That’s a sadness for all of us. But you can still go to Jesus in your heart, you can pray and read scripture.  You absolutely have to do those things.  Get out of your boat and go where Jesus is.

The second thing Saint Peter does right is that he actually walks on the water.  How does he do that?  He does that by looking at Jesus.  Notice very carefully that he only stays above the water while he’s looking at Jesus.  When instead he notices how strong the wind was, he begins to sink.  Eyes on Jesus, he’s walking on water; eyes on the storm, and he’s sinking into the depths.

Our eyes can be fixed in the wrong place pretty easily these days.  We can scroll endlessly through Facebook.  We can watch the news for hours on end.  But none of this is helping us, friends.  All it’s causing is stress and sadness and a deep hole that we can’t fill up.  We have to look at Jesus.  Participate in a livestreamed Mass.  Pray the stations of the cross and the Rosary.  Meditate on the day’s readings.  Read one of the Gospels.  Anything to keep your eyes on Jesus.  Because if all you’re looking at is the storm, you’ll sink deeper and deeper.  Don’t let that happen.

The third thing Saint Peter models for us is when he finds himself sinking, he calls out to Jesus.  “Lord, save me!”  When he does that, he finds out that he can’t ever sink so deep that Jesus can’t pull him out.  Jesus reaches out his hand, catches him, and they both get back in the boat.

“Lord, save me!”  Sometimes we don’t know what to pray when things get bad.  I remember back in seminary when both of my parents came down with cancer and I had no idea how to pray anymore.  All I could say was, “Help.”  Kind of like, “Lord, save me!”  And God did help: he sent some of my classmates to come and pray with me and help me get my head and heart back where they needed to be.  Those little prayers are often more effective than ten minutes of endless talking at God.  

Because we’ve never sunk so far that Jesus can’t be our rescuer.  And when we’re sinking, he’s the best source of refuge.  Don’t ever forget that.  He’s out there, walking on the water, ready to grab your hand at any point.  Don’t ever think your problems are too big or too little to call on Jesus.  Sometimes we forget that we have a Savior, and sometimes we don’t think we need a Savior, all the while sinking deeper into the ocean of despair.  Jesus doesn’t want that to be so.  Reach out your hand, call his Name, and be saved.

One last thing we should note in this story: Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Saint Peter did in fact have little faith.  But I would assert that it’s better to have little faith than none at all.  Saint Peter’s little faith put him on the water with his Lord, and got him saved when he was sinking.  The other guys in the boat didn’t have those opportunities for growth.  Saint Peter always wanted to be with Jesus.  Sometimes – okay – often, he messed up.  But every time our Lord gave him a second chance.  And every time, that second chance gave Saint Peter the grace of growing in his faith.  Saint Peter is indeed a good model for all of us, all of us with our little faith.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

I love the readings we have today!  Susanna’s story is one of the most eloquent in the Old Testament Scriptures: in it we see the wisdom of the prophet Daniel, as well as the mercy and justice of God.  This story is certainly echoed in our Gospel reading about the acquittal of the woman caught in adultery, although Susanna was actually innocent.  In the Gospel reading, we see the wisdom of Jesus, brought about as it is with the mercy and justice of God.  But sadly, we see in both stories also the fickleness of the human heart and the evil and treachery that makes up some of our darker moments.

To those who seek to pervert justice and to collude with others against some other person, these readings expose those evil thoughts and flood the darkness with the piercing light of God’s justice.  No one has a right to judge others, especially when their own intentions are not pure.  Only God can give real justice, just as only God brings ultimate mercy.

To those who are the victims of oppression, these readings give hope that God in his mercy will always walk with those who walk through the dark valley, and give to the downtrodden the salvation which they seek.  God is ultimately very interested in the kind of justice that is characterized by right relationships with one another and with Him.  It is the desire of God’s heart that this kind of justice would be tempered with mercy and would go out and lighten all the dark places of the earth.

Today we are called upon to right wrongs, to be completely honest and forthright in our dealings with others, to seek to purify our hearts of any wicked intent, and most of all to seek to restore right relationships with any person who has something against us, or against whom we have something.  Our prayer this day is that God’s mercy and justice would reign, and that God’s kingdom would come about in all its fullness.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

As I’ve been praying during this COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been struck by two things.  First is that God, who never sets in motion the evil that happens to us (including this crisis), intends to do something in us during this time.  We will have to wait and see what that is, all the while being faithful disciples who trust in God’s mercy.  The second striking thing in my prayer is that God wants us, in this mournful time, to rediscover and come to rely on the virtue of hope.

Now, virtues are those habits and dispositions that lead us to what is good (CCC 1804). There are generally a couple of different kinds of virtues: human virtues (like prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) and theological virtues (like faith, hope and charity).  Of these, hope is the virtue that recognizes our desire for happiness in this life and the next, which is an aspiration placed in our hearts by God himself (CCC 1818).  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this virtue of hope causes us to “desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817).

Hope is that virtue that gets us through the difficulties of this life with a view toward what is to come.  It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and not the light of an oncoming train!  Hope is so necessary in every moment of history, in every society and in every person’s life.  Hope is all the more necessary in moments of crisis, like this one.  Hope holds fast to the belief that we are travelers in this world, that we are not home yet, and that the best is yet to come.  We Christians hold fast to the knowledge that the Resurrection is the primary source of our hope, testifying that we have the invitation to life eternal, and the abiding presence of our God who made us for himself.

This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Those are crazy words.  They really are.  I think that, at least in years past, when we have heard these words, we just sort of accepted them as no big deal.  I mean, we’ve all heard the story a million times, right?  But those were crazy words, and the disciples, I think, would have received them as such.  I can almost imagine them doing a mental eye-roll!  And I think, these days, we might be the ones rolling our eyes: we’ve seen so many die of this awful virus in the last weeks.  This illness seems, very much, to end in death.

And so it was for Lazarus, too, friends.  I mean, he did really die.  That’s the whole point that was made by Martha’s seemingly-obvious, and perhaps even humorous comment, “Lord, by now there will be a stench.”  The belief was that, after three days, the dead person was really, really dead, and they weren’t coming back.  Lazarus has been in there four days, so it was reasonable to know that he’d be stinking of death.  But, Jesus insisted that they roll away the stone so they could see the mercy of God.  And so they did.

And the dead man came out.  That’s another one that we sort of gloss over in our millionth reading of this familiar story.  But let’s not underplay what is, actually and intentionally, an amazing miracle!  Someone who was stinking of death, having been rotting away for four days, got up and walked out of a tomb.  It’s a miracle of hope.  The dead man came out!

It doesn’t take too much imagination for Christian faithful people to see the foreshadowing in this story.  Jesus, too, will really die, and he too, will really rise, although in a different way.  Both of these episodes of a dead man walking out of a grave remind us to take up hope in the real knowledge that it is God who has control over life and death.  They remind us to hope in the knowledge that death is not the end.  They remind us to hope in the Christian conviction that God never intends the evil that befalls us, but allows it that we might hope in his mercy.  

God is doing something important during these days of quarantine and suffering.  Let’s not miss them.  The word “Lent” means “springtime,” and I believe that this can be a new springtime of faith for us.  This springtime can enliven hope in us, when we had given ourselves to the deathly cynicism of a world encrusted in the stench of materialism, self-centeredness, and entitlement.  So we cannot give in to any sense of doom or despair.  God is, always and forever, in control.

Will there be suffering?  Yes, and, I’m sorry to say, plenty of it.  This illness is touching all of us in some way and none of it is pleasant.  But let’s remember that Lazarus died of an illness, and Jesus died after suffering indignity, a scourging, and an ignominious, tortuous death on a cross.  But in each of those cases, God used suffering to unleash mercy, and glory, and a flood of grace.  God is calling us to the virtue of hope, brothers and sisters.  We know that this time of suffering will unleash mercy, glory and grace as well.  Because we have hope.  God is in control.

This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

This homily was for the school children. I recorded a Liturgy of the Word for them to see during the time when they’d usually have a school Mass, but can’t now because of COVID-19.

When I was a young person – many years ago now! – in my town, it mattered where you lived.  If you were on one side of the tracks, it meant you had money and people thought that was impressive.  If you lived on the side of the tracks that I lived on, though, you weren’t rich and so people sometimes looked down on you.  Thankfully, years ago, they tore up the tracks, but I think that kind of thinking still happens: not just in my home town, but all over.

We kind of see it in today’s Gospel reading.  The people of Jerusalem see Jesus walking about openly, and they look down on him.  “But we know where he is from.”  Kind of like, we know what side of the tracks he lives on, so why should we think he is the promised Messiah?  Jesus sets them right: he is “from” God the Father, who sent him into the world.  That’s his true home, and because that’s his true home, he can offer the Father’s forgiveness, the Father’s mercy, the Father’s love.

The people’s attempt to write Jesus off because they knew where he was from was their attempt to deal with the change of life he called people to.  Yes, he offered the Father’s love and mercy, but he also called them to change their lives, to live the right way, so they could live forever in the kingdom.  That’s real love and mercy there: calling people back to the way that leads to heaven.  But people don’t like to change, so they scoff at where he’s from.

In our first reading today, a group of wicked people do the same kind of thing.  They say, “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us, he sets himself against our doings, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.”  They don’t like that the “just one” professes to be a child of God.  But he is. In fact, even though this is the Old Testament and the book of Wisdom didn’t specifically speak of Jesus, it is, in fact, talking about Jesus.  Jesus is the just one, the Son of God, who calls us to turn around from what we are doing and turn toward the way that leads to heaven, that leads to life.

So that’s what our readings are calling us to do today.  It’s a great message for Lent, because Lent is about repentance, about “turning around” and walking in the way that leads to eternal life.  We all want to go to heaven one day.  Lent, and today’s readings, show us the way to get there: we just have to follow Jesus, even if what he asks us to do isn’t easy.

Now, I want to say a word or two about what’s going on these days.  I know it’s hard for you to understand why you can’t come to school, why you can’t be with your friends.  I know that because it’s hard for me to understand too.  I miss you all and your families so much.  But what we are doing right now is what is best for everyone.  We want everyone to be safe and healthy, and this is the best way to do that, for right now.  I look forward to the day when you’re back here and we can celebrate together.  Until that day, I want you to know that I am praying for you, and that I love you.

And please don’t ever forget that God loves you, always and forever.  Nothing can change that.  I’ve been encouraging everyone to do three things so that we can be together soon: stay well, stay safe, and stay home.  

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

This feels like a little bit of deja-vu for me, because I just did a video lesson on holy water for the school kids yesterday.  Water is so important to us, and we see a lot of water in these readings.  Water refreshes us, sustains us, cleans us.  And people are saying that drinking water, if you get the COVID-19 virus can wash it into your stomach where it gets destroyed.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m drinking plenty of water anyway!

But when the readings talk so much about water, what we are being led to is a reflection on baptism.  We ourselves are the sick and lame man who needed Jesus’ help to get into the waters of Bethesda.  The name “Bethesda” means “house of mercy” in Hebrew, and that, of course, is a symbol of the Church.  We see the Church also in the temple in the first reading, from which waters flow which refresh and nourish the surrounding countryside.  These, of course, again are the waters of baptism.  Lent calls us to renew ourselves in baptism.  We are called to renew ourselves in those waters that heal our bodies and our souls.  We are called to drink deep of the grace of God so that we can go forth and refresh the world.

But what really stands out in this Gospel is the mercy of Jesus.  I think it’s summed up in one statement that maybe we might not catch as merciful at first: “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”  It’s hard to imagine being ill for thirty-eight years, I’m sure that would be a pretty bad thing.  It’s hard to imagine anything being worse.  But I’m also pretty sure missing out on the kingdom of God would be that one, much worse, thing.  There is mercy in being called to repentance, which renews us in our baptismal commitments and makes us fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sometimes parishes have removed the holy water from church during Lent in a kind of fasting.  This is exactly why you shouldn’t: Lent is all about baptism, all about God’s mercy, all about being renewed and refreshed and healed in God’s grace.  I can’t wait for this virus situation to be over so that we can once again fill up the holy water fonts, and the pews, and rejoice together in our baptism!  

So I encourage you all to not take holy water for granted.  Think about that the next time you put your hand into the font and stir up those waters of mercy.  Be healed and made new; go, and from now on, do not sin any more.

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  That would be, I think, the most reassuring thing we could hear from our Lord!  To know that you’re on the right track — that your thoughts and heart’s desires are in line with God’s will — that would be a wonderful thing to know.  And today’s Scriptures give us the roadmap for finding that reassurance.

Step one is repentance. The prophet Hosea wrote of Israel’s repentance.  Israel, as a nation, as we well know, had turned away from the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They had turned to the false gods of their neighbors and had worshipped idols.  Hosea’s prophecy had been all about calling them back, urging them to return to the Lord who loved his people and yearned for them like a spurned lover.  In today’s first reading, Hosea prophecies the promise that God will accept back his wayward lover and will restore the people of Israel to his own loved possession.

Step two is to hear the voice of God.  “If only my people would hear me,” the Psalmist says, “and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”  God longs to fill his faithful people with everything that they need to sustain life and live their faith.  All we have to do is hear his voice, to follow his commands, and walk in his ways.  This hearing the voice of God requires a steadfast faithfulness that will not be enticed by strange gods or flashy idols.  It’s important to note that we have to do step one first: we can’t hear God’s voice if we’re caught up in our sins.  There is a single-mindedness that is called for here: the faithful are called not to hear God as one voice among many, but to hear God alone.

And step three is love.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus famously boils the commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor.  Again, there is an underlying single-mindedness: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  Love of God and neighbor isn’t a third or fourth priority, if we ever get around to it.  Love is prime: love must the first inclination of the heart, the first thought of the mind, and the first action of life.

What does it take for us disciples to be not far from the Kingdom of God? It takes a Lent of repentance, a desire to hear and meditate on God’s Word and his presence in our lives, and then to love like there was nothing else to do in the whole world. I’ve been reflecting on the fact that this is the lentiest Lent I can ever remember, or want to have again! But the fact that we all have to keep social distance and stay home to contain COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to slow down, to quiet ourselves, and to make things right. And our Scriptures today give us a way to do all that.

Saint Joseph

Today’s readings

What a time to be alive, right?  I mean, who among us ever expected anything like this, or would have chosen to walk down this sad path?  Who would choose quarantine or social distancing?  But here we are.  And we know, in our heart of hearts, that it’s not an accident.  God put us here and now for a purpose.  Maybe we are called to be leaders in some way, or called to shepherd our family in uncertain times.  Maybe we are being given an opportunity to pursue greater holiness by slowing down, stepping back, and taking a look at what’s really important.  God never wills the evil going on around us, but he may be allowing it, and using it, to give us gifts we didn’t know we wanted, or needed.

I suspect Saint Joseph could relate to that.

Today, of course, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus Christ. He is the patron saint of fathers, of workers, and of the Church. Obviously, he was a very special man. It wasn’t happenstance or an accident that he was put in this very special role. He was, of course, of the line of David, but he was also chosen to be the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus for a reason.

In Joseph, we see so many wonderful virtues. We see righteousness. He was a devout follower of the law. Even his initial unwillingness to take Mary into his home shows that he was a man who walked in the way the Law taught. But righteousness means more than that. It means following whatever way puts us in right relationship with God and others. His righteousness went beyond mere observance of the Law, and followed in the way God laid out for him, as uncertain as that must have been.

In Joseph, we see justice. He was a hard worker, and a skilled carpenter. He obviously gave what his customers asked, or he wouldn’t have continued in business for very long. He was also just in his dealings with Mary, accepting her into his house because of God’s command.

In Joseph, we see faithfulness. He practiced his faith and was obedient to God. He protected his family from hardship and oppression, and evil intent. He raised his Son and taught him the Law. He was faithful to Mary.

The real gift of this celebration of St. Joseph is that he is a great model for our faith. Men particularly don’t often have role models of faithfulness and righteousness, but in St. Joseph we have all of that. Joseph is the patron of fathers and of workers for a reason: in him we see both of those vocations raised to glory because St. Joseph was a man who lived his faith in all of his life.

When we find faithfulness difficult, we have Joseph to look to for help. In times of uncertainty like these, we have Saint Joseph’s intercession, he who had to work through all the events of his family’s life without an instruction book or road map, but only with the light of faith. Through his intercession, may our work and our lives be blessed, and may we be found faithful to the word of the Lord. May we all come to know the grace God intends in this season of our lives.

The Third Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

This Mass was streamed live on Facebook in lieu of people attending Mass in person, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Is the LORD in our midst or not?

I remember a time a while back when I got the flu – bad.  It was one of those rare occasions when I was so sick, I couldn’t even get out of bed.  I had a fever, chills, aches and pains, the whole deal. When it was at its worst, I was trying to drink a lot of fluids, which is pretty much the only thing you really can do when you have the flu. So I drank a lot of water, but as time went on, I got sick of drinking a lot of water. So I supplemented it with tea, of course, but I even gave myself permission to do something I don’t do very often, and that was to drink some soda – 7up mostly. And that tasted good, the 7up, but because it’s sugary, sooner rather than later I’d be thirsty again, and the only thing that really helped was – water.

It’s not so different now, is it?  I think a bottle of water is worth about $37 on the open market.  With the COVID-19 situation taking a toll on all of us, it’s little things like water that remind us that we can’t take anything for granted.

I thought about that experience as I was preparing today’s homily, because this set of readings, which are being used just for this Mass because of the Scrutiny we will pray in a few minutes with our RCIA Elect, these readings are all about water. Whenever we see this much water in the Sunday readings, we should always think of baptism. And so we’ll talk about that in just a minute, but before we go there, let’s take a minute to get at the subject of thirst. That, after all, is what gets us to water in the first place.

The Israelites were sure thirsty in today’s first reading. After all, they had been wandering around the desert for a while now, and would continue to do so for forty years. At that point, they were thinking about how nice it would have been if they had just remained slaves in Egypt, so that they wouldn’t have to come all the way out here to the desert just to die of thirst. Better slaves than dead, they thought. The issue was that they didn’t have what they thirsted for, and had not yet learned to trust God to quench that thirst. So Moses takes all the complaining of the people and complains to God, who provides water for them in the desert. Think about that – they had water in the desert! And they had that water for as long as they continued to make that desert journey. They never ran out, they didn’t die of thirst, God proves himself trustworthy in a miraculous way. The end of the reading says they named the place Massah and Meribah because they wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” Can you imagine that?  God had led them out of slavery in Egypt with great miracles and signs, and is guiding them through the desert with a column of cloud by day and a column of fire by night.  Is the LORD in their midst or not?  Obviously, the answer was “yes.”

Which brings us to the rather curious story we have in the Gospel reading. If we think the story was all about a woman coming to get a bucket of water, then we’ve really missed the boat. This story asks us what we’re thirsting for, but at a much deeper level. Did Jesus really need a drink of water? Well, maybe, but he clearly thirsted much more for the Samaritan woman’s faith. Did she leave her bucket behind because she would never need to drink water again? Maybe, or maybe she just forgot it in the excitement, but clearly she had found the source of living water and wanted to share it with everyone.

In the midst of their interaction, Jesus uncovers that the woman has been thirsting for something her whole life long. She was married so many times, and the one she was with now was not her husband. She apparently couldn’t find what she was thirsting for in her relationships.  She was worshipping, as the Samaritans did, on the mountain and not in Jerusalem as the Jews did. And every single day, she came to this well to draw water, because her life didn’t mean much more than that. She was constantly looking for water that would quench her, and yet she was thirsty all the time. Kind of reminds me of having the flu.

And all of this would be very sad if she hadn’t just found the answer to her prayers, the source of living water. There is a hymn written by Horatio Bonar in 1846 called “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” that speaks to this wonderful Gospel story.  We sang it as our opening song and we’re going to hear it in a few minutes as part of our scrutiny, but I want to focus on the words of that hymn because they relate to today’s Gospel story:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

And that’s exactly what happened to the Samaritan woman. She drank of the stream of Jesus’ life-giving water, and she now lived in him. She couldn’t even contain herself and ran right off to town, leaving the bucket of her past life behind, and told everyone about Jesus. They were moved to check this Jesus out, initially because of her testimony. But once they came to know him as the source of life-giving water, they didn’t even need her testimony to convince them; they too lived in him now.

Today’s Scriptures plead with us on the subject of conversion.  The Israelites were wandering through the desert learning to trust God, being converted from the Egypt of their past sinful lives to the Promised Land of God’s inheritance.  The Samaritan woman was being converted from the stagnant water of her own past life to the living, life-giving water of new life in Christ.

Remember that I said earlier that, whenever you see this much about water in the readings, the point is always baptism.  Conversion is necessary before baptism can happen.  And that’s what brings us here today. Lent, if we give ourselves to it, is totally about our baptism and our need for life-long conversion. For those among the Elect, that’s quite literally true. Our elect have been walking the desert journey to come to God’s promise just as the Israelites did. And they, like the Samaritan woman, have come to know the source of life-giving water. Just four weeks from yesterday, they will stand before us, have life-giving water poured over their heads, and receive what they have been thirsting for all this time.

But the rest of us, too, find conversion and baptism in our Lenten journey. Lent, as is often pointed out, means “springtime” and during Lent we await a new springtime in our faith. We await new growth, we look for renewed faith, we recommit ourselves to the baptism that is our source of life-giving water. We have what we are thirsting for, and Lent is a time to drink of it more deeply, so that we will be refreshed and renewed to live with vigor the life of faith and the call of the Gospel. These Lenten days take us to Easter and beyond with water that we can pour out in every time and place where God takes us. The life we receive in baptism can revive a world grown listless and jaded and make it alive with springs of refreshment that can only come from the one who gives us water beyond our thirsting, that follows us in our desert journeys, that springs up within those who believe.

The Israelites wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” As we see the waters of baptism refreshing our Elect, and as we ourselves are renewed in our own baptism, should certainly answer that question with a resounding “YES!”  The Lord is, and always has been, in our midst.  Our thirst has been quenched, our souls revived, and now we live in him.

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