Homily for Third Sunday in Lent 2020
Ascension Memorial Church, Ipswich, MA
“Once the plague had shut the gates of the town, the people settled down to a life of separation, debarred from the living warmth that gives forgetfulness of all.”
~Albert Camus, The Plague
These words drawn from Camus’s existentialist classic descriptively lend themselves to our sudden reality, to this odd state of affairs in which we find ourselves. We thought we saw it coming, until it arrived, quite by surprise.
You might judge these precautionary, draconian measures we have adopted as extreme, but consider how we will feel knowing we did all in our power to minimize the worst of what preys upon us, this pandemic, the likes of which we’ve not seen in over a century.
What Camus only imagined, we are experiencing. Not the plague, but a dangerous virus, COVID-19 properly called—and in order to do our part to contain this highly transmissible contagion, we are settling down, and adapting ourselves, to a life of separation.
Once the plague had shut the gates of the town, the people settled down to a life of separation, debarred from what brings joy, passion and comfort to their lives—debarred from the living warmth that gives forgetfulness of all.
The existential fear of being separated and alone—of being cut off from one another…is perhaps what we fear as much as the virus itself.
Please leave me my warm blanket of love, my warm bath that allows all lesser concerns, all needless anxieties, to fall away, and be forgotten, at least for a time.
Health directives promoting “social distancing” are now suspending our daily routines, our treasured past times, our rituals and worship services. How then will we access that living warmth that comforts and satisfies our souls, that gives us the confidence of knowing that all manner of things shall be well?
I stood behind a rather full shopping cart at Market Basket days ago. I went to stock up on provisions, like everyone else, so many of us looking unsettled, trying to appear cheerful and non-aggressive. The checkout line extended two full lengths of the store and as I stood there at mid-day hoping not to have to return here again anytime soon, and did I sense the woman behind me keeping her distance from me, and me keeping my distance from her?
Jesus brought his disciples with him through a region inhabited by impure people, people who made you impure just by standing in their presence. Why was he with that woman at the well, talking to her, asking for water in the blistering heat of midday?
Jesus was thirsty and could not access the water from the well without use of her bucket. As the woman drew water to quench his thirst, Jesus drew the words needed to tell of another kind of thirst that runs deeper than the depth of this well, a thirst we all share—with Jesus and with this woman. She helps Jesus quench a thirst that always returns. He offers her water that once sipped gushes up from within us, flowing so abundantly and unceasingly through us, such that the burden of thirst this woman shoulders in coming to this well every day so falls away, as to be forgotten.
Is there a well of living waters within us that once primed and flowing can satisfy our deepest human thirst and make all the parched places in our lives no longer burdensome, but a joy to work tirelessly to water, nurture, heal and make whole?
To whom do we turn, where do we go, to make the well within us flow forth reliably and unceasingly? Where are people required to go to bring their hearts, minds, and souls to God? Is it to this church, to this mountain where our ancestors chose to be with God, or is it to the Temple in Jerusalem?
Jesus surprises the woman, and us as well, by declaring all that as no longer necessary. No need to travel to a designated location for access to the living waters. “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.”
How astoundingly fitting these scriptures are from today’s lectionary given our present circumstances! Jesus required to observe “social distancing” yet finding a way to connect with and to honor the dignity of a woman burdened by her unrelenting thirst; Jesus, the one we come to church to worship telling us that the place where we worship is not the point of our worship. Wherever we find ourselves, there we can direct our hearts, minds and souls to the one who walks with us always.
These unprecedented circumstances under which we now live and worship, and will for weeks to come, may change forever how we see and relate to one another, and may change forever how we enter more deeply into relationship with the One who made us and loves us and watches over us.
Once COVID-19 shut the gates of the town, we settled down to a life of separation, but we were not debarred from the living warmth that gives forgetfulness of all. No, we awakened to a living warmth within us that gushes and grows within us by finding ways to share it with others, and we also found ways, like this live streaming service, to turn hearts, minds and souls in spirit and truth to the one who is always found in the Temple, but only needs a prayer from us, to be present to us.