35 - Samaritan Woman, May 7, 2018

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Acts 11:19-26, 29-30

John 4:4-42

“Judge not according to appearance; judge according to what is righteous” (Jn 7:24), what is unseen, not apparent. Flowing like a stream of living water from the Font of the Midfeast, like the Body of the Savior rising from the Tomb, this command of the LORD, spoken in the Temple, Israel’s mystical center, in the “middle of the Feast”, is in the middle of Pascha, and so at the heart of the Christian life. Is it not the same commandment of St Thomas Sunday? “Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” And, we hear it this morning in the LORD’s word to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the Gift of God and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask Him and He would give you Living Water” (Jn 4:10).

In the Gospels of these Sundays of Pascha, we read of events in the life of the LORD that took place before His Passion, when He was still on this side of the Tomb. But, in this season of Pascha, the Gospels are of the risen LORD; at the well this morning, He is in the Resurrection on the other side of the grave. There is in this marvelous union of the liturgical lectionary and worship of the Church – that is not apparent, until you see it and realize it was in front of you all the time! – the revelation that Christ, the Righteous One, is “in our midst” on this side in His Resurrection on the other side of the grave. This Gospel reading becomes, in the liturgical worship of the Church, an icon of what we cannot see; the mystery of our inner man. The point of this union is the Tomb of Christ that is “apparent”, but remember: the stone, in the mystery of the LORD’s Pascha, was rolled away, the veil of the Temple torn from top to bottom. The Tomb of Christ opens out beyond the confines of space and time onto the Resurrection and into the unseen tomb of our heart. In this, we are given to see the unseen mystery of God (Col 1:27) that is not apparent: that in our daily life, the risen LORD Jesus Christ is always present and active invisibly in our inner man. In the Church, in the Body of Christ, the other side of the grave is here on this side: “Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, is in our midst!” In the sacred and fearsome movement of this beautiful liturgical icon, the Church would draw us into our inner man, into the tomb, the bridal chamber of our hidden and secret heart; and this morning, the Church would draw us into our inner man to stand with the Samaritan woman at the well in the presence of the risen LORD, the Well of Living Water, who, at about the sixth hour – in the mystery of His Cross – has drawn near to us.

What, then, is this water that the LORD asks from us? Is it not clear that it is the water of our death, since it is in contrast to the living water the LORD would give us? But, as St Paul says: in our heart we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). Our heart is a tomb, the holy fathers say; and our heart, says Jeremiah, is the man. If, then, we judge the LORD’s word not according to the appearance of the letter but according to the righteous Spirit of the prophets, we hear: give me your heart that is dead; give me yourself as you really are.

Now, this morning’s Gospel has the very shape of Pascha, with notes of His Ascension: the LORD resting at the well, as He rests in the Tomb on the Sabbath. But, He sits: the posture of a King victorious over His enemies, as He sits at the Right Hand of the Father in His Ascension. The Samaritan woman coming to the well, then rushing into the city to tell the men what she saw and experienced at the well as the myrrh-bearers coming to the Tomb then fleeing from the tomb in fear and “ekstasis” before telling the disciples, He is risen! But, there is a back story to this morning’s Gospel that takes us deeper into the ethos, if you will, for lack of a better word, of Pascha. It’s the story of Jacob meeting Rachel for the first time at this very well (Gn 29). That’s where Jacob fell in love with his future wife, Rachel, his cousin, and so his kinsman even as we are “kin” to God, made in His Image and Likeness. Here we are given to see beneath the surface of this morning’s Gospel the mystery of Pascha that is not immediately apparent. Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, is calling the Samaritan woman, a “veiled” image of apostate Israel and of the human soul – for these are both the bride of God (cf. Jer 3:14) – away from her harlotry, her idolatry by which she has become joined to death, and to give herself to Him – at about the sixth hour; or, on the Cross, the marriage bed as Augustine calls it, on which Christ becomes one with the human soul – that united to Him in love, in the likeness of His death, she may be raised with Him in the likeness of His Resurrection and drink the Living Water, the eternal life of His Holy Spirit, in the Bridal Chamber of her heart. To receive the risen Christ into one’s soul, that is to say, is to be swept up into the joy of His Resurrection like one falling in love. To unite oneself to Christ in the likeness of His death and Resurrection, I want to say, is in this world most like falling in love. That is the experience of Pascha!

Now, when we go a-courting, we shower, we comb our hair, we brush our teeth, chase our bad breath away with mouthwash, put on our finest clothes and sweet-smelling perfumery; and thus we present ourselves to our date in the hope that he/she will be smitten by our apparent beauty and fall in love with us. But, the LORD’s, “Give me to drink,” means, come out from behind the mask of your apparent beauty, and give me yourself as you really are in all the stink and ugliness of your guilt and shame, and I will give, not to your mask but to you, myself. Unite your wounds to my wounds, for I want to give you my Body and Blood as your food and drink. I want you to become flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones. I want to pour over you the fragrant waters of my Holy Spirit. I want to penetrate you all the way into your heart and wash you clean. Receive me and you will find yourself restored to your original beauty, clothed in the Robe, the Wedding Garment of Light, naturally fragrant in the fragrance of My Holy Spirit.

The Samaritan woman longs for this. Let’s watch and see how she is transfigured to become Photini, Illumined, the Name by which the Church calls her!

She cries to the LORD: “Give me to drink of this Water!” He says, “Go, call your husband!” Beneath the appearance of sending her away, I see the LORD drawing her toward Himself in the tomb of her heart where, in the presence of Christ on His Christ, in the aura of His inexpressible compassion, she can safely stop being who she isn’t. And, in her, “I have no husband,” I see a turning inward, away from the appearance of the mask, and the beginning of her confession of her adultery and fornication.

This, I believe, is the drink the LORD was asking her to give Him: her real self in all her ugliness, her guilt, her shame, her brokenness, her anger, her fear, her desire; but also, beneath that, her spiritual thirst for joy and life that she had sought for in all the wrong places. “Give me to drink!” He calls out! “I thirst to be loved! I thirst to be longed for!” (St Maximus: 5th Cent Var Txts, §89). “Give yourself to Me!” I will wash you clean and I will give Myself to you; for, I am the Source of the Beauty and the Good you thirst for: I am the Resurrection and the Life you hunger for! I am your true Bridegroom, your true Husband, your true Lover. Eat Me, drink Me, for I am the Living Bread, I am the Living Water (Jn 6:31-35). I am your true Lover who loves you as you are. I alone can restore you to your original beauty, for I created you in my own image and likeness; and I, by my death, destroyed your death and its ugliness.

Let us not judge according to appearance, but according to what we cannot see: the desire of our secret heart, our thirst to be loved and to love. When we are assailed by afflictions and sufferings in the world, i.e., by death, for these all proceed from the world’s egotism fighting to save its own life from the death it has become one with, let us look inside and see what is hidden: how we give our mind over to whatever dark thoughts come to us, and how we follow them into anger and self-pity, depression, despair if not to the contemplation of suicide. If we judge by what is righteous, we will not believe in the suggestions of these thoughts. Believe in the LORD Jesus Christ; give your mind to Him and you will not become their prey.

He gives Himself to us in many ways, but above all in the doctrines and sacramental mysteries that flow from the Font of His Holy Church, His Body. Let the images that the words of the Church’s prayers and teachings and hymnody draw in our mind, soaking wet as they are with the LORD’s Holy Spirit, be what we give our mind to. Let the vision of God that softly illumines our mind in the icons of the Church, be what we focus our mind on. That vision will lead our mind to the well, the font of our heart where the LORD in His Resurrection draws near to us at about the sixth hour, in the inexpressible demonstration of His love for us on His Cross.

And let us see if, when we come out from behind our masks to give our LORD to drink the water of our heart’s love and desire, we are not cleansed and restored to our original beauty. See if we don’t receive the Living Water of His Holy Spirit and become ourselves a Photini, an Illumined One in the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, raised from death to life in the goodness of the love of Christ, in the joy of praise and thanksgiving to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us that He might give to us Living Water from the well of His life-creating Tomb, in which He destroyed our death by His death and made us to become partakers, drinkers, of His own divine nature.  Amen!