Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sitting through Saturday

We are an impatient people. The Great Vigil Mass, meant to finish with the new day,  tends to start as soon as the sun begins to fade. So sometimes can be celebrated by the early end of the evening with hours until the turning of the day. This bright season means that the Mass will begin after 8.00pm. The brightness of the day suggests a starlit ending is promised.

Much to look forward to.

But first is the waiting, not a thing I am good at to be honest, I can meditate for hours....but waiting always brings out the 'what can I be doing?' in me. To-ing and fro-ing from church all day yesterday and now - stillness.

At the Good Friday Service we were given Holy Communion reserved from Holy Thursday. As I received the host into my hands a though came into my head 'What if this was all there is? What if, after this receiving of this Sacrament, there was no more? 

What if the God mind changed? What if the Father had decided that Jesus has suffered enough? How, then, would we cope?

There is so much in my life and my character that I know is not 'just me'. So much that I depend on Jesus for. Jesus who teaches, heals and sends. Jesus, who knows what I'm like and loves me anyway. Jesus, who nudges me towards kindness and compassion.  

Who would I talk to on the way to work each morning? Who would show me the good in those I struggle with and the courage in the chances that I take? 

I can well imagine the women in the garden confused in their grief. It was only two...three days ago...? Distraught with remembering Jesus' promise that he would be with them always and the relief that he has now moved beyond the pain, anguish and betrayal of the last days. Huddled together with no understanding of how to go on. 

How grief confuses us all. 

Grief keeps the women in place, with a promise of one more gift to give. Martha, no doubt, mixing the spices and herbs. Letting the 'ingredients' run through her fingers, Praying that her preparations are, once again, a distraction.  Wanting to believe that there is hope. Hope keeping us waiting.

For today, there is nothing else to do. Like the moving of the tide and the rising of the sun - we do not create the Resurrection, the Risen Christ is not for us to conjure up. It is for the Father to give back the life that was surrendered.

The Resurrection is a gift to us. I used to live in hope of being like Mary Magdalen, the one who didn't give up, the one who was called to witness. This Lent I have had more in common with Martha - fighting the distractions in my desire to get close. Often getting it wrong. But like Martha I have kept on trying. And, like Martha, waiting for the dawn I trust will come.


Friday, 18 April 2014

The Seven Sayings - Carrying the darkness

The seven sayings of Jesus on the Cross are gathered from the four Gospels and form a meditation for the waiting......

My waiting... 

Forgiveness –
      'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do' 

I wake up to the radio dj exhorting the promise of a four day weekend - opportunities for shopping and eating, long lie-ins and late nights. Two million people have already left the country for sunshine, sea and forgetfulness. The radio adverts tell of a local pub offering a Spring 'All you can eat' BBQ later in the day. 

      ''Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise' 

Opening the front door of my house I am welcomed by the promising new birth colours of the cherry blossom against the perfectly blue sky. The gardens and fields on the way to church scream out in vivid yellows and acid greens. Runners in dayglow vests patrol the pavements and pathways at a steady pace. A mum stands at a bus stop with a young family in rainbow colours, chattering like baby parrots. The church itself is chilled and shrouded still in the dark purples against the concrete grey. Sitting on the sanctuary steps the expanse of glass doors provide a panorama of life - yet to be fulfilled. 

Relationship – 
       'Woman, behold your son:  behold your mother '

The day is spattered with holy moments. Earlier this morning we shared in the Morning Prayer of the Church. Then we go to join with the Anglican and Methodist churches in a Walk of Witness that spans the housing estate we serve. Fifty or so witnesses pray for the ten thousand souls that live here. Sometimes our 'family' doesn't even know we exist.

Abandonment –
   ' My God, My God, why have you forsaken me'

My husband sends a text - '
What's happening today?'. 
I reply 'It's Good Friday'. 
'See you later then xxx'. 

I am reminded of all the good people that I love that don't need to be here, doing this, every year. 

Sometimes I wish I was the same. Maybe I am offering only a consolation but this day - knowing how often I am guilty of forsaking God - this day I have to stand and watch.

Distress – 
     'I thirst '

A conversation with my 5 year old philosopher granddaughter about why we celebrate Good Friday. 'So we don't forget' I tell her. 'But Jesus dies!' she says indignantly 'who's going to forget that? And,' she adds ' I bet his mum feels terrible having to think about it every year!'

I bet she does too. And I bet that there are many people on this bright pink and blue spring day who are having to remember terrible things all by themselves, every year. Where can you put that grief except into the darkness of today?

Triumph – 
    'It is finished'

At the end of each walk, service or ritual- no matter how solemn - no matter how dark - comes the return to everyday life. Normality is so often the best response to fearfulness.The return to the mundane denies the overshadowing gloom. But, within each one of us a darkened lamp sits waiting for the bridegroom to take his journey. The grace is in walking the path with only the promise of Light.

        ' Father, into your hands I commit my spirit '

Our final service is Tenebrae -  candlelit in hope. The sky will still be a bright blue this year. The drive to the church will be accompanied by gardeners hard at work supervised by their nodding cherry trees and shopper's cars piled high with bargains. Within the worldview, Good Friday feels like a secret witnessed now behind closed doors. Maybe why we have to remember every year? In case one year no-one worries about a mother grieving her son. 

 This year, not even the streaks of sunset will accompany the blowing out of the candles leaving only last year's Paschal candle standing watch at the closed tomb. 

A have so many candles in broad daylight. But where our prayers come from there is no light. Only a crack in the grey-blackness -  a promise made in heaven. A promise witnessed by our own carrying of the darkness.


Foot washing

So, maybe this is about Holy Thursday in a roundabout sort of way. 

 Two years after the death of my mother, I am at the stage of remembering the 'little things'. 

One of the little things was her feet. She has been a slave to fashion in her time - at a time when shoes were not the same shape as feet. Forcing her broad toes into triangular points had not done her any favours. Neither had four children and a lifetime of domestic demands added to a workspan of tasks that kept her on her feet for many hours. 

Perhaps we are a strange family, but the one thing we would argue over would be the task of 'Mum's feet'. It was a privilege - a way, that maybe we didn't understand, of saying thank you.  The laying out of an old towel on the carpet, getting the plastic washing up bowl from the kitchen, gathering the soaps and oils, scissors and - yes - even the pumice stone. The careful carriage of the steaming kettle sending the scents of lily of the valley and rosepetals into the air. The addition of a little salt,  then the sigh of contentment as the feet smoothly entered the water defying the often scalding temperature. Without a bathroom to escape to, it was probably her equivalent of 'Five minutes peace' although it often edged out to much longer than that. 

The one 'luxury' she would allow herself was the chiropodist. The thought of being 'off her feet' was too hard to face and certainly the most difficult part of the last months of her life. 

Perhaps that's why I don't have the usual issues with feet. I like feet. I like the way you can tell how the person is by how their feet are carrying them. Feet have attitude and a serious survival instinct. 

So after my mum, I thought about feet - 

the feet of my husband, bound in two pairs of socks to take the pressure off his steelcapped boots

the tiny feet of my daughter who, when she isn't working 10 hour shifts behind a bar, is carrying her baby to and fro on her back

the mega feet of my son who defies the threatened restraints of a health condition to play sport

the feet of friends who have ran, walked and cycled miles for various charities

the feet of a friend who bounces on the balls of his feet when telling a tale 

the feet of a friend who leaves for church an hour early in case he meets someone who needs a chat

the feet of my grandaughter exploring all the world can offer

so many more...

I'd wash any of their feet in gratitude of where their feet have led them and taught me. 

Jesus asks us to be servants.

Tonight we will be re-membering what he asks us.

And, in our actions, we will be thanking those who have already said 'yes'. 


Thursday, 10 April 2014

The price of peace

Palm Sunday 

Matthew 21:1-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

In previous years, I have speculated on the need to have the Passion readings repeated over two weeks. Why put us in the place we are going to when, all through Lent, we have been trying to avoid the deja-vu experience of hindsight?

The experience of Palm Sunday doesn't offer hindsight but peripheral vision. Next week all eyes must be on Jesus, whether they be the eyes of the crowd, the believers, the Temple or the Roman guards. This week, we get to try out what that feels like before we find ourselves standing in their place. Imagining ourselves in the melee of Matthew's Jerusalem, we are invited to observe the misdirection and misunderstandings of this tragic week. 

Jesus rarely seems to make a fuss about his travelling. We imagine him the itinerant wanderer, distracted by pleas for help and offers of hospitality. Here Jesus is quite explicit; he enters Jerusalem as David sent Solomon, as Zechariah promises the Messiah will come to his people-

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.Zech 9:9

a symbolism not lost on the exploited people of Israel; on the fervent enthusiasm of the pilgrims; on the impatient desires of the zealots. 

The shouts of 'Hosanna' meaning 'Save, now' and the thrown cloaks are recognition of prophecy being fulfilled. The palm branches signalling covert loyalty to a nation bowed by Roman rule.  The Messiah is here.

Who could not be swept up in the excitement of 'I was there'. 

But surely the Messiah would be on the side of the church leaders - and he is not. Surely the Messiah would be speaking against the Roman occupiers - and he is not. And surely the Messiah would not be sitting with the poor, the lame and the children-  but he is. 

The cloaks and palm leaves lie gathering dust, trodden into shreds of disarray - the mornings after... Perhaps this Messiah played his last trick with Lazarus; perhaps there is nothing worthwhile from Nazareth; perhaps the 'stage' is too big and Jesus has taken fright. Good for nothing except interfering with the business of the Temple then running for the hills. Another festival of disappointment.

How many of the crowd remember the continuing verse from Zechariah? 

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea

The week is full of confusion, sleight of hand and betrayal; so many questions.

The covenant with his Father signed with tears; the procession continues into tragedy.

Did the 30 pieces of silver compensate for the anointing with the nard?

What is the price of peace?

In the reading of the Passion, one person caught my attention who I had not thought of before. 

Watching from a distance, no doubt holding on to each other in grief; the women. With the Mary's, another woman - the mother of Zebedee's sons. The mother of James and John, the favoured friends.  

The mother who, in Matthew's gospel, just before the entry in Jerusalem - asks for a gift. Asks that her sons will sit at the left and right hand of Jesus in his Kingdom. The Kingdom that she had, no doubt, shouted in with 'Hosanna's' of her own. In her imagining, seeing her sons as golden, victorious princes once the battle had been won.  

Does her heart sink as she looks into the faces of the two criminals; these strange thrones of suffering and the kingdom that they overshadow. What if this had been the fate of her fine boys. Would she have ever asked, knowing what she wished for?

What is the price of peace?

We have made it through Lent, one way or another. The road is not much clearer. Our involvement in the proceedings still our choice to be made. 

The Methodist Covenant Prayer is one I find difficult to pray without crossing my fingers just a little. 

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, 
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, 
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, 
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, 
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly 
yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,Father, 
Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. 
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, 
let it be ratified in heaven.

Let me have the strength to be at your side, Lord. 
Let me know the price of peace.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Waiting for faith

Sunday Gospel - John 11:1-45

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. – It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’
  Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’
He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

  On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:
‘Iam the resurrection.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’
 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

  When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

  Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:
‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’
When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

  Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

 Martha is too often remembered as the 'too-good' housewife. Here she is the woman who would stop at nothing to help those she loved. 

I have a great respect for Martha - she seems to be one of those women who can speak her mind and still keep her friends. Certainly the friendship with Jesus seems to have grown into a recognised relationship of affection and trust and extended to all the members of the family. I'm sure anyone would have expected Jesus to put these friends above almost anyone else -  yet he didn't. 

Mary sits in the gloom of despair, surrounded by the murmurings of 'why' and 'if only'. Jesus' presence speaks of desolation and regret. There is little comfort in blame.

Dealing with the 'why's and 'if only's of grief is not easy no matter where your faith is. No matter that you are absolutely sure that, when the time comes, Heaven's gates will open. No matter that you believe that this world is only part of our soul's eternal journey. 

No matter - because the suffering is not about what happens next - it's about what is happening now. And Martha is wise enough to know it and brave enough to say it. 

Why does Jesus wait? Is it really his intention to cause this tragedy?  Or does he believe that his Father will give him the time he needs to do what he has to do and still care for his friend?

I don't  believe in God who treats us as puppets so I have to accept that Lazarus' illness and death were part of his life. It wasn't unusual in those times to sicken and die quickly, even at a young age. When Jesus reaches their home, his grief is genuine, dragged from the depths of his being - as human an emotion as any he has felt before. 

But knowing - knowing - that nothing is impossible to God; even three days in a tomb - he can at least ask; he prays with all the faith that is within him. It is not Jesus who brings Lazarus back but his Father; answering an appeal for mercy. 

Time warps somehow. The memory of something that has not yet happened. A tomb, a stone rolled away, women weeping in the garden. The implicit certainty that there is more than death. 

The consolation of answered prayer increases the numbers of the faithful. Yet in two weeks or so they will, once again, become the 'crowd'. 

But not Martha, Mary or the unbound Lazarus.

As the horrors of the past days fade, a new reality dawns.

Faith grows in the waiting darkness.


Sunday, 30 March 2014

Man born Blind

GospelJohn 9:1-41 
As Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
‘As long as the day lasts
I must carry out the work of the one who sent me;
the night will soon be here when no one can work.
As long as I am in the world
I am the light of the world.’
Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man, and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (a name that means ‘sent’). So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.

  His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one.’ Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ The man himself said, ‘I am the man.’ So they said to him, ‘Then how do your eyes come to be open?’ ‘The man called Jesus’ he answered ‘made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, “Go and wash at Siloam”; so I went, and when I washed I could see.’ They asked, ‘Where is he?’ ‘I don’t know’ he answered.

  They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.’ Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them. So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man. However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind and had gained his sight, without first sending for his parents and asking them, ‘Is this man really your son who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but we do not know how it is that he can see now, or who opened his eyes. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, ‘He is old enough; ask him.’

  So the Jews again sent for the man and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! For our part, we know that this man is a sinner.’ The man answered, ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He replied, ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’ At this they hurled abuse at him: ‘You can be his disciple,’ they said ‘we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man replied, ‘Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes, and you don’t know where he comes from! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to men who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind; if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.’ ‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.

  Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
  Jesus said:
‘It is for judgement
that I have come into this world,
so that those without sight may see
and those with sight turn blind.’
Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘We are not blind, surely?’ Jesus replied:
‘Blind? If you were,
you would not be guilty,
but since you say, “We see,”
your guilt remains.’

John takes this story very seriously; I assume we are meant to as well. John enjoys using the idea of 'seeing' throughout it gospel. Comparing the superficial with deep understanding and asking which level do you think you are on?

This story of the 'man born blind'  reads like the transcript of a trial. And in many ways, it is. Jesus' disciples have been with him all this time. They have witnessed  all the works that Jesus has done; have listened to all the words of forgiveness and justice. Yet they still cling to the idea of a 'scapegoat'. They still comply with the idea that there are people within the community who are the 'other' and the 'lesser. Guilty of nothing more than fulfilling a need for someone to blame. 

Jesus didn't believe it. He didn't seen anything wrong with being blind, or lame or a leper; what bothered him was the judgement that went along with it. That there were people, rites and traditions that  decided who was 'in' or 'out' when his Father looked at everything and pronounced it, him, her, them - 'Good'.

When the disciples ask the question 'who can be blamed for this disability?' it must be hoped that they are beginning to think twice. But they still wait for a cure- for the man to made whole in their eyes so that he can be accepted. 

With a delightfully creative gesture Jesus turns to the good earth for the healing. And, without even asking, the man is given his sight; returned to his family; his assumed 'sin' is washed away in Siloam's water. Yet not much seems changed.

There is still a need for a scapegoat. So the finger points to Jesus. It seems that that someone can look godly; act godly and speak godly - but that doesn't make them godly. Not if you have already made your mind up. 

Which some of the Pharisees have - any friend of his is no friend of ours. Like us the Jews relied on their clerics to give them the answers. Why should they not trust them now?

You can say 'we see' but what do you see? Is the rules, the status quo? You cannot heal on the Sabbath; you cannot heal at all without there being a price; you cannot take away sin without sacrifice. You cannot befriend the stranger or question prejudice. 

Sadly, our faith remains full of exceptions and prejudices. We worship knowing that even the religious media is full of hate and discrimination. How are we to live as disciples except by 'seeing' the Word.

We read the Gospel to remind ourselves that hatred and exclusion are human failings not God's. In asking God to heal us of our blindness - in prayer and in life - we become witnesses. The works of God - kindness, generosity and compassion -  can be displayed in us when we have been bathed in the Light of World. 


Friday, 21 March 2014

Anam Cara

John 4:5-42 

Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied 

‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, he would have given you living water.’
‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him,
welling up to eternal life.’
‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’ ‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
  At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
  Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:
‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,
and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying:
Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you:
Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps;
I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it;
and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’

This year, our Lenten Letter from the Bishop was about Confession, with the clear exhortation of how Confession is  the Sacrament of Lent and how Confession will bring us back into the company of God. The word, Confession, was used so many times that  I started to shrivel into my seat. After all Confession suggests that I am filled with a wrongness that I am avoiding. Confession suggests guilt and shame. Confession is what has kept people silent and unhealed for far too many years. 

The Sacrament of Lent is not Confession; it's Reconciliation. In centuries past  Confession was a practice that led to punishment - being shunned by your community, sometimes for years. 

The Sacrament that we share now come from the practice of the Irish Monks; the practice of Anam Cara - the soul friend - where brothers would speak to their Abbot or trusted elder and share in the experience and the peace-giving of another traveller on the road. It was a practice of knowing our humanity and God's grace given in spite of everything. A sacrament of friendship and renewal.

Confession waits for condemnation, Reconciliation seeks wholeness and relationship.

 I had never really connected the Samaritan woman with the Sacrament until this last week when  I was talking with the RCIA group as they prepare for this Sacrament without the traditional fears of dark confessionals, grumpy priests or fears unheard. Nevertheless, there is something about admitting to your weaknesses in front of another human being. I reminded them of the Woman at the Well.

Jesus is sitting, waiting;  his friends off feeding the body rather that the spirit - other priorities; other places to be. 

The woman comes to the well. Maybe no great sinner (though aren't we all?) but not right.  Something not right about a woman who has grieved for five husbands and whatever the circumstance of the present relationship. Certainly something not right about a woman coming to the well alone; without women friends; without a child on her back or running around her feet.

Not an outcast; she returns to her village quite believing that she will be heard. She can certainly hold her own in conversation with a stranger - but something.

She knows herself;  her longings; she wants to feel right. She is prepared to do the work; she enters into dialogue with the 'enemy'; enters into relationship with this man who knows her in spite of  the bravado and the stigma of who she is or is not. Jesus  has what she needs. He speaks with an openness of heart that encourages her to have the confidence and humility to ask for it.  Not out of shame or even guilt; but with with the faith she already has and the optimism that God's grace is the answer. God's grace will be revealed in her. She will know herself loved.

And then, she has the generosity of spirit to pour out that grace on others. bringing them to the well, whilst Jesus' disciples are still wondering what he has been up to. 

What a wonderful way this would be to approach the Sacrament especially in this time of Lent -when we are seeking our way through desert paths - what an opportunity to find an oasis in which to sit with a friend; to be unburdened; to be made new.