Sunday, April 24, 2011


Matthew 28:1–10
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James and Joseph, went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. The angel‘s appearance was like lightning, with garments white as snow. The guards shook with fear and fell as though they were dead. The angel said to the women, ―Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell the disciples: ‗He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Gali-lee. There you will see him.‘ Now I have told you.‖ So the women hurried away from the tomb, with awe and great joy, and ran to carry the good news to the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ―Shalom,‖ he said. They came to him, embraced his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ―Do not be afraid. Go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee; there they will see me.
Reflection -- Anne Breck Peterson

During my years at All Saints it has been my privilege to participate in the memorial services of a host of amazing individuals I have worked with, known, admired and loved. Each service is planned taking into account the person‘s favorite hymns and passages of scripture—a process made easier if the individual has left a list of these things in a file somewhere. As I read this passage of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of her beloved friend Jesus, I realize I must make it clear to my family that this is the passage of scripture that affects me most deeply.

Sadly making her way to the tomb with her friend to anoint the body, Mary Magdalene experi-ences a shaking of the earth, a strange light in front of a tomb that is now empty, and guards in-ert with fear. Bidden to go and tell the others, she and her friend hurry to take the good news to the disciples, encountering the presence of Jesus in the process. I see Mary running to the disci-ples, exclaiming, ―I have seen the Lord!‖ Her surprise and delight communicate such energy to me. It makes me wonder in what ways I am living as if I had ―seen the Lord.‖

The most difficult death I have experienced was that of my adored father and last parent in 2000. During the months he was moving toward the end of his life, I was also helping my daughter to prepare for her marriage. He died two weeks before her wedding. A month later, I returned from Thanksgiving with my dear stepmother and her wonderful family where we had given away all his worldly goods. I was exhausted.

My colleagues agreed to pick up the plan-ning of Christmas services while I went to a friend‘s beach house to sleep and then to a psycho-therapist I had checked in with during other crises. He asked me what qualities in my father I admired most. As I listed them he asked, ―Which of those reside in you?‖ I felt a shift in my being, a moving to a new place, claiming some of the attributes I had so loved in him. I look back on this as a resurrection experience for me as I experienced life in a new way.

As Mary runs to tell the disciples, and as they themselves experience Jesus‘ presence, some-thing changes in them. No longer are they the followers who don‘t get the punch lines of his stories or who try to dissuade him from walking the bold journey that cost him his life. They, too, are able to claim for themselves some of the qualities they admired in Jesus and are fired up to take his life changing story to the ends of the earth.
—What in the Easter experience energizes you?
—What will you do with that energy?
—What has been a resurrection experience for you?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday: Easter Preparation

by Susan Russell

In the calm-before-the-Easter-storm of music, mystery and Alleluias the back-stage preparations are in high gear. Flowers are being organized and arranged ...

... and the liturgies have been copied and collated ...

... as we prepare at All Saints Church for our six celebrations of Easter: the 4:00 Children's Vigil this afternoon, where 17 little people will be baptized into the Body of Christ; the 7:30 Great Vigil of Easter where we will kindle the first fire of Easter, sing the Exsultet, hear the stories of salvation and then baptize 5 bigger people and welcome 52 new members; and then the four Easter Day services -- 7, 9, 11:15 and 1pm -- with families and flowers and music and joy.

So in this calm-before-the-Easter-storm, here's a poem by John O'Donohue to help our internal preparation for Easter catch up with the external preparations so well underway:

No one knew the name of this day;
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.

-John O'Donohue

Thursday, April 21, 2011


John 13:1–17; 31b–35

Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to God. Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end. The devil had al-ready put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that God had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ―Lord, are you going to wash my feet?‖ Jesus answered, ―You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.‖ Peter said to him, ―You will never wash my feet.‖ Jesus answered, ―Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.‖ Simon Peter said to him, ―Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!‖ Jesus said to him, ―One who has bathed does not need to wash; except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.‖ For Jesus knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ―Not all of you are clean.‖ After Jesus had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ―Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.‖ Now is the Chosen One glorified and God is glorified as well. If God has been glorified, God will in turn glorify the Chosen One and will do so very soon. My little children, I will not be with you much longer. You will look for me, but what I said to the Temple authorities, I say to you: Where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you are to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples: that you truly love one another.‖

Reflection -- Carissa Baldwin

Drawing water for feet in Genesis was a way of welcoming what God was up to in the midst of the faithful - creative things, daring things, things not for the faint of heart. The first hospitality of foot washing in the Bible finds Abraham and Lot offering refreshment to God’s angels and messengers as they brought promise of proliferation and protection (Gen 18:4, 19:20). To re-ceive anyone in this way in the ancient Middle East was to convey a complete welcome and submission. ―So long as you are my guest, I shall provide for your need before my own.‖

Host as servant is a custom alive and well in many parts of the world today. A Pakistani will sleep on the floor in order for a friend or stranger to have a bed overnight. In contrast, the bur-dens of hospitality in recent American culture, are light. ―The bathroom’s down the hall,‖ or ―Can I get you something to drink?‖ will suffice. We are not expected to sympathize with the vulnerability of waiting, feeling hungry, or being disoriented.

Strangely, suffering and sympathy make us better hosts. And so these hard economic, social and emotional times, though unpleasant and unwelcome, have the potential to make us more generous people. In scarcity we either find solace in hate, or we choose to love more deeply from the chasm of our own deep loss and need. As people of faith, we choose love, openness and the courage they require.

Imagine the already anxious students of Jesus so close to the death of their friend. How much more nervous would they have felt when the one who gives them assurance starts acting weird - inverting social expectation by getting down on his knees. Teachers don’t wash students. Wise sages don’t act base and earthly. God’s promise of justice, wisdom and healing are most often told through inversion - sight to the blind, freedom to the captive, teacher as servant.

The disciples resisted the vulnerability of receiving God’s promise and teaching much like we get squeamish over washing one another’s feet. And yet this grand, uncomfortable gesture in-vites us to pry open our life chests to the deliberate and mysterious ways of God.

1. Look back on your life in these days of Lent. What might God be showing you? What might God be up to?

2. Invite a friend, loved one, colleague or acquaintance for dinner and devote your every moment of preparation and hospitality to concern for their hopes, needs, tastes, loves, feelings, moods, experience and desires.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Palm Sunday

Matthew 26:36–56
After the meal, Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane and said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Jesus took along Peter, James and John and started to feel grief and anguish. Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death. Please, stay here, and stay awake with me.” Jesus went on a little further and fell prostrate in prayer: “Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. But not what I want – what you want.” When Jesus returned to the disciples, he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Could you not stay awake with me for even an hour? Be on guard, and pray that you may not undergo trial. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Withdrawing a second time, Jesus prayed, “Abba, if this cup cannot pass me by without my drinking it, your will be done!” Once more Jesus returned and found the disciples asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. Jesus left them again, withdrew somewhat and prayed for a third time, saying the same words as before. Finally Jesus returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping? Still taking your rest? The hour is upon us – the Chosen One is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us be on our way! Look, my betrayer is here.”
While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived – accompanied by a great crowd with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. Judas had arranged to give them a signal.

“Whomever I embrace is the one,” he had said; “take hold of him.” He immediately went over to Jesus and said, “Shalom, Rabbi!” and embraced him. Jesus said to Judas, “Friend, just do what you are here to do!” At that moment, the crowd surrounded them, laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those who accompanied Jesus drew a sword and slashed at the high priest’s attendant, cutting off an ear. Jesus said, “Put your sword back where it belongs. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Do you not think I can call on God to provide over twelve legions of angels at a moment's notice? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen this way?” Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I a robber, that you have come armed with swords and clubs to arrest me? Every day I sat teaching in the Temple precincts, yet you never arrested me.” All this happened in fulfillment of the writings of the prophets. Then all the disciples deserted Jesus and fled.

REFLECTIONby James Walker

Waking from a nap during a TV rerun of the 1965 epic film, The Greatest Story Ever Told, my mother mumbled in sleepy horror, "Oh, phooey; I couldn't stay awake with Jesus, just like his disciples. ‘The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’” I don't remember how I responded to my mother's dazed comment forty years ago — I suspect something smart and/or pious (fully capable of both in those teenage years) — but I do believe we have much to gain if we are able to stay awake with Jesus, in real time.

Once again our annual pilgrimage of Holy Week is upon us. How does the scene in the garden of Gethsemane speak to us today? Each year, I feel called to walk with Jesus into the valley of grief, betrayal and death. We know the story, even as it unfolds, like a familiar song.

My song is love unknown,
My savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
O who am I
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

My savior’s love, so great that he feels all that I feel — joy, anxiety, peace, strength, vulnerability, despair. Jesus, clothed in my very human flesh, yet so centered and aligned in God’s love. Jesus shows me the way to live. In this sense, Jesus truly is my savior, the light of my salvation, my saving health. His life of service leads me on the path of abundant life.

And, here at the end of that magnificent life, as friends desert and betray him, as his confidants fall asleep and leave Jesus to his stark loneliness, as he prays to God that this moment would simply pass, Jesus remains steadfast to the life of love — even to execution on the cross.

He came from his blest throne
Salvation to bestow,
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know.
But O my friend,
My friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

My savior, my friend. Jesus is my companion, my God-in-flesh brother. I used to shy away from language such as this, fearing the mirror of my perceived wacky-fringe family. A personal relationship with Jesus the savior? “Not for me,” I would lie. For the truth is that my close companionship with Jesus has saved my life in the valleys of despair and alienation. It is this dearest of friendships that illuminates my daily path, and it is this cherished sweetness that I pray sings in my heart this week and through eternity.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine:
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like thine.
This is my friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

—Samuel Crossman (1624-1683)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lent V

John 11:1–45

There was a certain man named Lazarus, who was sick. He and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were from the village of Bethany. Mary was the one who had anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume and dried his feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick. The sisters sent this message to Jesus: “Rabbi, the one you love is sick.”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “This sickness will not end in death; it is happening for God’s glory, so that God’s Only Begotten may be glorified because of it.” Jesus loved these three very much. Yet even after hearing that Laza-rus was sick, he remained where he was staying for two more days. Finally he said to the disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

They protested, “Rabbi, it was only recently that they tried to stone you – and you want to go back there again?” Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk by day do not stumble, because they see the world bathed in light; those who go walking by night will stumble because there is no light in them.” After Jesus said this, he said to the disciples, “Our beloved Lazarus has fallen asleep, I am going to Judea to wake him.”

The disciples objected, “But Rabbi, if he is only asleep, he will be fine.” Jesus had been speaking about Laza-rus’ death, but they thought he was talking about actual sleep. So he said very plainly, “Lazarus is dead! : For your sakes I am glad that I was not there, that you might come to believe. In any event, let us go to him.” Then Thomas, “the Twin” said to the rest, “Let us go with Jesus, so that we can die with him.” When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Since Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusa-lem, many people had come out to console Martha and Mary about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary stayed at home with the mourners. When she got to Jesus, Martha said, “If you had been here, my brother would never have died! Yet even now, I am sure that God will give you whatever you ask.” “Your brother will rise again!” Jesus assured her. Martha replied, “I know he will rise again in the resur-rection on the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the Resurrection, and I am Life: those who believe in me will live, even if they die; and those who are alive and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes!” Martha replied. “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, God’s Only Begotten, the One who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, Martha went back and called to her sister Mary. “The Teacher is here, asking for you,” she whispered. As soon as Mary heard this she got up and went to him. Jesus had not gotten to the village yet. He was at the place where Martha had met him. Those who were there consoling her saw her get up quickly and fol-lowed Mary, thinking she was going to the tomb to mourn.

When Mary got to Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “If you had been here, Lazarus never would have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the other mourners as well, he was troubled in spirit, moved by the deepest emotions. “Where have you laid him?” Jesus asked. “Come and see,” they said. And Jesus wept. The people in the crowd began to remark, “See how much he loved him!” Others said, “He made the blind person see; why could he not have done something to prevent Lazarus’ death?”

Jesus was again deeply moved. They approached the tomb, which was a cave with a stone in front of it. “Take away the stone,” Jesus directed. Martha said, “Rabbi, it has been four days now. By this time there will be a stench.” Jesus replied, “Did I not assure you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they took the stone away. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, “God, thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd, that they might believe that you sent me!” Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus told the crowd, “Untie him and let him go free.” Many of those who had come to console Mary and Martha, and saw what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

Reflection-- by Sharalyn Hamilton

I grew up in a family of storytellers. Sitting around the kitchen table or, on summer nights, on the porch listening to stories of hardship, tragedy, triumph and love are some of my favorite memories.

The gospel writer, John is a skillful story teller. In the story often referred to as “the raising of Lazarus,” John crafts the hardship –Lazarus falls ill and his friend Jesus, the healer, is nowhere near. His sisters try to locate their dear friend Jesus and bring him to Lazarus. Then the tragedy – Jesus does not come and Lazarus dies. Martha and Mary are filled with grief over the loss of their brother and regret that Jesus did not get back in time to save him. But when Jesus arrives he brings triumph over death, calling Lazarus from the tomb. Woven through the relationships, motivating actions and prompting the rejoicing, is love. It is no wonder I love bible stories. They mirror the stories of my family, and the entire human family.

One of the ways to reflect on this kind of a story is to read it out loud and see if you are drawn to a particular character. Read it again putting yourself in that character’s place. Then take time to reflect. Allow your mind to rewrite the story and be open to what it might have to teach you.

Several years ago I reflected on today’s passage using this method. I put myself in Lazarus’ place. For days I reflected on being Lazarus in the tomb and, surprisingly, I did not want to come out. I would hear Jesus calling me and I didn’t want to move from my dark and now familiar place. The stone was rolled away allowing light to pierce the darkness, but, rather than drawing me out, this repelled me. I was clinging to the darkness where I felt safe. But the voice continued to call.

Finally I realized that a small part of me (of my life) had died and needed to be left behind so that the rest of me could live. I said my good-byes, grieved the loss and, even though afraid, walked into the light. To my surprise the light was warm and others were there to help unbind me and set me free to experience resurrection.

There are many aspects of this story on which to reflect:
1. What is friendship? How much we are our brother’s keeper? Martha and Mary call on their friend when he is needed. Jesus does not run to Lazarus immediately.
2. Feelings such as fear are messengers about what we need and what to ask for, and not impede ments to moving forward. The disciples feared what would happen if Jesus returned to Judea because they had experienced hostility.
3. Grief may be a part of letting go and experiencing resurrection. Martha, Mary and Jesus were clearly grieving Lazarus.
4. As much as any experience may feel personal and lonely, we are not alone. Lazarus heard Jesus calling him. When he emerged from the tomb he was still bound by the burial cloths. Those gathered at the tomb unbound him.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lent IV

John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw someone who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, was it this individual's sin that caused the blindness, or that of the parents?” “Neither,” answered Jesus, “It was not because of anyone's sin – not this person's, nor the parents.‟ Rather, it was to let God's works shine forth in this person. We must do the deeds of the One who sent me while it is still day – for night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

With that, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva and smeared the blind one's eyes with the mud. Then Jesus said, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means "sent"). So the person went off to wash, and came back able to see. Neighbors and those who had been accustomed to seeing the blind beggar began to ask, “Is this not the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said yes; others said no – the one who had been healed simply looked like the beggar. But the individual in question said, “No – it was me.” The people then asked, “Then how were your eyes opened?” The answer came, “The one they call Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash. When I went and washed, I was able to see.” “Where is Jesus?” they asked. The person replied, “I do not know.”

They took the one who had been born blind to the Pharisees. It had been on a Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud paste and opened this one's eyes. The Pharisees asked how the individual could see. They were told, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. I washed it off, and now I can see.” This prompted some Pharisees to say, “This Jesus cannot be from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” Others argued, “But how could a sinner perform signs like these?” They were sharply divided. They addressed the blind person again: “Since it was your eyes he opened, what do you have to say about this Jesus?” “He is a prophet,” came the reply.

The Temple authorities refused to believe that this one had been blind and had begun to see, until they summoned the parents. “Is this your child?” they asked, “and if so, do you attest that your child was blind at birth? How do you account for the fact that now your child can see?” The parents answered, “We know this is our child, blind from birth. But how our child can see now, or who opened those blind eyes, we have no idea. But do not ask us – our child is old enough to speak without us!” The parents answered this way because they were afraid of the Temple authorities, who had already agreed among themselves that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why they said, “Our child is of age and should be asked directly.”

A second time they summoned the one who had been born blind and said, “Give God the glory instead; we know that this Jesus is a sinner.” “I do not know whether he is a sinner or not,” the individual answered. “All I know is that I used to be blind, and now I can see.” They persisted, “Just what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” “I already told you, but you will not listen to me,” came the answer. “Why do you want to hear it all over again? Do not tell me you want to become disciples of Jesus too!” They retorted scornfully, “You are the one who is Jesus' disciple. We are disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this Jesus comes from.” The other retorted: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes! We know that God does not hear sinners, but that if people are devout and obey God's will, God listens to them. It is unheard of that anyone ever gave sight to a person blind from birth. If this one were not from God, he could never have done such a thing!” “What!” they exclaimed. “You are steeped in sin from birth, and you are giving us lectures?” With that they threw the person out.

When Jesus heard of the expulsion, he sought out the healed one and asked, “Do you believe in the Chosen One?” The other answered, “Who is this One, that I may believe?” “You have seen him,” Jesus replied. “The Chosen One is speaking to you now.” The healed one said, “Yes, I believe,” and worshiped Je-sus. Jesus said, “I came into this world to execute justice – to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were nearby heard this and said, “You are not calling us blind, are you?” To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, there would be no sin in that. But since you say, "We see,‟ your sin remains.”

by Christina Honchell

Here we have another of those great dramatic set pieces in the gospel of John: a couple of compelling main characters, timid parents for comic effect, an ethical lesson regarding the origin of sin and two choruses, the Pharisees and the disciples.

Where do I start with the things that bother me about this story? I'm a relentlessly rational person. I've always read the miracle stories with some discomfort, and I'm in good company. Thomas Jefferson cut out this story, and all of the miracle stories, when he published his version of the New Testament. This Lenten season I've been reading Leo Tolstoy's version of the Jesus story, The Life of Jesus, in which we find Tolstoy equally uncomfortable with miracles, going so far with this story that he changes the main character's blindness from a physical condition to a condition of lack of education and spirituality (the disciples ask: “Is it his fault or his parents, since they did not educate him?”).

Some of my discomfort is endemic to all of John‟s gospel: it's important to remember that this gospel was written sixty years after Jesus' death, and written in a period of great conflict between those in the Jesus movement, now in its second and third generation, and the Jewish community from which they came. And to bracket all of the language and commentary put on the lips of the Jewish Pharisees; reading John's gospel requires vigilance to recognize the anti-Semitic prejudices of the author's voice and to cut through it to find the important story being told about Jesus and his ministry.

And while it is clearly an ethical step forward for Jesus to proclaim that neither individual sin, nor inherited sin, caused the man's blindness, it feels like a step backward when he completes the lesson by saying that the man is blind in order to let “God's works shine forth.” I don't believe for a moment that God intends for some to suffer so that others might learn.

So setting aside those things that give me ouches, there is much to love about this story. Beginning with the healing ritual itself: nothing ethereal, just a gob of mud and spit smeared on the man's eyes. Washed clean in living water. Earthy, sacramental, messy. The young man, and we, are healed by the things of this earth, materials available to all of us, and it speaks to me of the importance of our life in the here and now.

When I drill down to what speaks to me in this story, it takes me back to that rationalism that I carry around with me, and that keeps me from seeing – I relate to those Pharisees.

Not so much in their obsession with sin abounding – sin in Jesus, in the young man, in his parents, but in their hubris about their religious rules and practices. They are sure that they are doing religion right. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, the Pharisees are unable to see beyond the limits of their doctrine, and actually unable to acknowledge what has happened right before their eyes. Tolstoy changes “Pharisees” to “the Orthodox” in his retelling of the story, to indict the religious authorities of his age and of ours. No matter what our beliefs, we can all benefit from a season of bracketing our tightly held assumptions so that we can be open to what is happening right in front of us.

When Jesus says “but since you say "We see," your sin remains,” I hear a call to moving beyond the relentless rationalism that keeps me from seeing miracles around me. That keeps me from being open to the miraculous, compassionate healing that Jesus offers in this story and throughout the gospels (and that I frankly need – I have a badly broken foot that has dramatically impacted my life and challenged me to deal with discouragement and despair). That keeps me from entering into the mystery of God's Oneness.

As James Carroll says in the concluding chapter of his new book, Jerusalem, “God is greater than religion, and greater than meaning too.”

My prayer this Lenten season is to know that I don't know, and to live in that knowledge.

  • Has religion or religious practice blinded you to God's love and compassion at some point in your life?
  • What is the cost of letting go of those closely held assumptions that keep you from being open to the miraculous around you?
  • How do you reconcile the gifts of rational thought and the gifts of God's unexplainable miracles?

Saturday, March 26, 2011


John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 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.) 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.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestors Leah, Rachel and Jacob, who gave us the well, and with their offspring and flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 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.” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth, for God seeks such worshipers as these. God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah –The Anointed One – is coming, and will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am the Messiah.”

The disciples, returning at this point, were shocked to find Jesus having a private conversation with a woman. But no one dared to ask, “What do you want of him?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman then left her water jar and went off into the town. She said to the people, “Come and see someone who told me everything I have ever done! Could this be the Messiah?” At that, everyone set out from town to meet Jesus. Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But Jesus told them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” At this, the disciples said to one another, “Do you think someone has brought him something to eat?” Jesus explained to them, “Doing the will of the One who sent me and bringing this work to completion is my food. Do you not have a saying, ‘Four months more and it will be harvest time’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields – they are ripe and ready for harvest! Reapers are already collecting their wages; they are gathering fruit for eternal life, and sower and reaper will rejoice together. So the saying is true: ‘One person sows; another reaps.’ I have sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the work, and you have come upon the fruits of their laborer.”

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


Reflection -- by Zelda Kennedy

Marcus Borg once wrote, “. . . to be on a journey is to be in movement. Moving from place to place, and there is change in such a life. A journey is a process that involves our whole being. It involves our feet as well as our minds and our heads. A journey involves following a path or way. To be on a journey is not to be involved in aimless wandering, though there may be times when it feels like that; people have gone on this journey before that we are called to, and there is a trail, a path, a way.”

The journey I want us to follow today is that of the “Woman of Samaria,” whose story is found only in the gospel of John. Please know that while this is a story about a woman, I believe this story reflects our journey in varying phases. It’s a story of a person who finds herself at a point in life where self-esteem is low, life is lonely and yet she finds ways to cope with her situation. It is a story of someone, who has a divine encounter that’s life changing. It is a story of someone given a choice to make a change that allows her to make a difference. I know that many of you have heard and read the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well numerous times. Please take time to re-read it, again. Interestingly, each time I re-read this story, the more I realize what an incredible encounter it is.

Historically, in first century Palestine, where the woman of Samaria resided, the major racial division was between Jews and Gentiles. Jews resented Samaritans because in them was found a mixture of Jewish and Gentile blood. This mixture of the races in Samaria made the Samaritans so repulsive to the pureblood Jews of Judea and Galilee that it was freely acknowledged "Jews had no dealings with Samaritans" (John 4:9; 8:48), and despised Samaritans so much that they would not set foot in Samaria. Therefore, instead of taking the direct route through Samaria when traveling, Jews went out of their way to travel along the east bank of the Jordan River. Thank God, it was not so with Jesus! "He needed to go through Samaria" (John 4:4). Why? In second Thessalonians the writer states that this Samaritan woman was chosen for Christ’s salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and while the males of her time considered this nameless woman of Samaria a possession, Jesus reminded her how very precious she was by his mere acknowledgement of her humanity. He didn’t have to know her name. He knew her heart.

He essentially tells her that she is worthy of receiving the best God has to offer – even with questionable morals. (John clearly states that she had been married to five different men, and was now living with another man outside the bounds of holy matrimony (John 4:16-18)). During her day this was considered scandalous behavior. This was probably the reason why she came to draw water from the public well "about the sixth hour" (John 4:6), which was high noon, according to the Jewish computation of time. The more respectable women drew water in the cooler hours of the morning or the evening. I also believe our nameless woman of Samaria came to the well during the hottest hour of the day because she had low self-esteem. She didn’t believe she was somebody. Her actions and behavior demonstrated she felt like nobody – truly unworthy – unworthy of receiving and giving joy; unworthy of being satisfactorily single; unworthy of being, while feeling trapped and outside of the norms of society and living on the margins.

This remarkable story of divine encounter shows us the power of being given an opportunity to choose. Someone once wrote, “The most basic choice we have in life is whether to expand or contract, whether to bring our creative and expressive energies out into the world in positive or negative ways.” No matter what our circumstances, we have the power to choose our directions for our journey. Jesus gave the woman of Samaria a choice. And what did she do? She took her choice and ran with it! She was not satisfied with receiving and keeping her gift from Jesus to herself. No, she went out and shared it with others.
How many of us can see ourselves in the woman at the well?During this Lenten season, I want to challenge you to accept this time as a gift, like receiving a long, cool drink of refreshing water. A gift that allows you to take care of self, so that you may eventually shift your focus to others, while you continue to revisit, rediscover, realign and reignite your purpose in life.