Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 30, 2021.
Three Post-Resurrection Gospel readings feature water. Last week it was the story of the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. This week it is the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well and next week Jesus heals the Blind Man with mud made from his own spittle.
Water is a symbol for new life, for cleansing and rebirth. It is from water that all life evolved and, in Christ, it is water that initiates us into the kingdom through the action of the Holy Trinity. I think it is true that the gift of Holy Baptism has yet to be unwrapped by many of us. To die and rise with Christ and to be sealed with the Holy Spirit is a very great blessing that often takes a lifetime (or longer) to realize.
Focusing on the reading today Jesus offers the Woman the new Living Water in juxtaposition to the old water from Jacob’s Well. The Lord’s Living Water eternally satisfies becoming an internal perpetual fountain as the Samaritan Woman begins to realize. Jacob’s water could never have that effect.
Fr. John Behr makes a point about the influx of Living Water into the life of the believer. Allow me to quote him directly.
“You can’t introduce a stream of living water into a still pool without all the silt and sediment in the pool being stirred up; the immediate result will be that the pool is more murky and turbulent than it was before.” One holy father wrote in the Philokalia that when you begin to live a spiritual life, life often seems to get worse rather than better.
We can see what happens as the Samaritan Woman begins to thirst for the Living Water. It stirs up in her the details of her sinful life. In Psalm 50 there is a verse that speaks to this. “But lo, thou requirest truth in the inmost parts.” And Jesus speaks of the need to “cleanse the inside of the cup.” And in the same light, the Lord tells us that even to harbor anger against another is the same as murder or lust after someone in your heart is the same as adultery. Jesus is speaking of the internal life. The condition of our hearts is, it seems, God’s greatest concern.
Finally, the Lord teaches Photeini the underlying and all-encompassing truth of truths.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that the Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he.”
This amazing and revolutionary passage has been encapsulated concisely in the Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit who is, “everywhere present and filling all things.” Therefore, there is no place he is not and no time when he is not fully present. The whole cosmos becomes a Sacrament and is even now celebrating an eternal Liturgy into which we on this very day have entered.
I think I have spoken before about this person. I want to reintroduce you to a Western mystic who lived in the 13th century. Her name is Mechtild of Magdeburg. Very little biographical information is available about her except that she was a nun, a Beguine, that is a lay women living in community, later a Dominican tertiary, and finally a Cistercian around 1272. She was the first female mystic to write in German. She was a remarkable woman and, following in the footsteps of many mystics, an object of controversy to church authorities. You have to love them. I want to read to you a short quote about the most pivotal moment in her mystical life with God.
"The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.
I love how she puts it. “I saw and knew that I saw.”
Once I heard some criticism from some seminarians that I pray in Buddhist temples. First of all, I replied, I’ve never been in a Buddhist temple although I would enjoy a visit to one. Second of all, if God is everywhere present and filling all things, and we are, as St. Paul instructs, to “pray without ceasing,” then are we to make the mistake of failing to see him and to pray to him in the deep quiet solemnity of a Buddhist temple? What would you do instead? Curse the exquisite silence? Throw eggs? I fail to see the point unless, of course, we are to be so bold as to designate where the Omnipresent One can and cannot be and say that prayer is only to be done in those places we decide are appropriate for him and only in the way we say? How silly. How sad. How unchristian.
The Holy Trinity exists in every atom, every molecule, every piece of dust. As Joseph the Hesychast so beautifully reminds us we breathe God, we wear God, we eat God, we live in God who is unbounded and uncircumscribed by anything. Every place is his place and every place is a place for prayer.
This is what Jesus was teaching the astonished Samaritan Woman and what he is teaching us. When at last we see and know that we see God everywhere and in all things, as the Living Water of Christ cleanses and transfigures our inward parts, then we will know the depth to which we have been saved by our Lord Jesus Christ. Then we will discover perpetual joy.