John 4:5-29 Bodies without water are dust. It is water that gives dust life. We begin Lent each year remembering that without life-giving water and spirit, we are but dust. We move through the season from the desert wilderness, to a garden that holds unending life. Water dances, moves and reflects. It is the real and metaphorical element of life and spirit that cleanses and inspires us. It is the initiation into our faith and life. It is also a central theme of the work with the farming community of San Eduardo in the Los Rios region of Ecuador. For 12 years St. Augustine’s has worked through hard rains at a clinic at the Anne Stevens. But this year the community was in the midst of a drought. Just walking down a path you could taste dust in your mouth. It was the beginning of Lent and an easy time to remember that we are close to dust. The Ash Wednesday liturgy spoke of how close water is to prayer when the rains don’t come.
Drew, our team leader for the well who works with the operators and leadership in San Eduardo, wrote, “We take water for granted, but if the water in our rivers and streams were poisoned with bacteria and viruses, or if our source had gone dry, we would together to find another source of water. It would become our primary focus. We would no doubt entreat God.” During the drought we learned that the well that is central to the life and spirit of that community is failing. We learned that even though the pump and distribution are working, we need to dig again to find a new water source. It will be time consuming and costly, but if the community is to thrive, the well has to work. If there is no well, there is no running water, and if there is no clean water, we move too quickly towards dust. The water is there, running deep and clean under the earth, we just have to have the perseverance and means to tap into it.
This story is true in many communities around the world. The need for water precedes all else and outranks nationality and boarders. There is nothing more real or spiritual in the world than water. Jena Nardella, the executive director of Blood Water Missions, wrote after her last trip to northern Kenya where a drought has dried their water source, “It is the well that reminds us that water is still the providence of God in that we cannot make it rain, and we can only work together to make clean and safe water possible for a community. It is hard to believe that sometimes communities suffer when there is life giving water just meters below the surface.” The World Health Organization estimates that not having access to clean water is the cause the majority of deaths worldwide, especially children under the age of 5. I heard on the radio this week a story of a young mother in Japan who was afraid to give her child a bath for fear that the water is harmful.
In arid Palestine wells have always been critical to life and became a metaphor for salvation. They were central points in the community for people to draw water from springs considered living water. In this story from the Gospel of John, Jesus is leaving Judea and retreating to Galilee, making a three-day trek through desert lands. He was tired and as he approaches Sycar, he sees the well that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. That well had been offering waters in the desert for almost 2000 years. It had endured the changing of power, the renaming of the land upon which it sat, and the economic hardships and prosperity of the people who came to it for life. This is the well where Jesus sits down and with no bucket or cup, sees a Samaritan woman, and says, “Give me a drink of water.”
And sitting by this old and deep well, the good news is preached. The Samaritan woman has access to water, but finds herself starving for a drink from his words and spirit. As long as she has known Jacob’s well that has held her secrets and dreams, she has been thirsty. Finally sated, she becomes the first missionary of the gospel, running into the world as love overflows.
We are the Samaritan woman. We go to the wells of San Eduardo or wherever the corporeal acts of mercy that bids us to give drink to the thirsty, leads us to act in community and find we are starving for a drink from the spirit that can sustain us. We are the Samaritan woman. We know that while we have water, we can taste the dust in our mouths. We are the Samaritan woman. We know that we cannot fill our cup by adding more water to it we just need to empty our hearts and dig to find the source of all life-giving spirit. We are the Samaritan woman, when we get to the well through deserts and dust we learn that God knows our whole story and has quenched our thirst with freedom.
It is a huge gift in this world to be able to keep going to the well. We should never, never take that gift for granted, but accept the water that bubbles up and pours out with gratitude. And it is a huge gift to have the well of this altar. This communion table is our well. We should never, never take this gift for granted, but accept the living spirit that wells up in us and pours out with gratitude. Pray that as a community of faith, we keep digging wells in this world to stay alive. And we keep drinking from this well, because it gives us life.