|37 - The Sign of Jacob's Well, May 17 2020|
Below is the text for this morning's sermon. It was recorded on our St Herman's YouTube channel. To view the YouTube, click here: https://youtu.be/v2yrXTNzejk
John 20.1-10 (Matins)
Acts 11.19-26, 29-30
John 4.5-42 (Sunday)
What the sign of the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well signifies about Christ and His holy resurrection (Jn 20.31) is given first, I think, in how closely her encounter with Him at Jacob’s well mirrors the story of Jacob meeting Rachel for the first time at the well in Harran. (Gn 28.10-29.14) And second, what it signifies about Christ is given from a primitive Christian tradition of biblical interpretation which took certain instances in the Gospels of a woman being called, simply, ‘woman’ to mean that the woman so called was an image of Eve, for that’s what Adam first calls Eve in the Genesis story of the Garden. (Gn 2.23) ‘Woman’ is what the Gospels call Mary Magdalene, who is in our Matins Gospel for this morning; and so also does our Gospel this morning call this woman the ‘woman’ from Samaria. Let’s look at this second part of this morning’s sign first: the sign of the ‘woman’ from Samaria.
Let’s start with the obvious. It’s the woman, not the man, who receives the seed and transforms it into a ‘man-child,’ born as a son or daughter of man. God ‘builds’ (Gn 2.22 LXX) the woman from Adam’s side or rib. So also He ‘builds’ His Church on the Rock (Mt 16.18), which is Christ (1 Co 10.4). And, as spiritual drink flowed from that Rock, which is Christ (1 Co 10.4), so Eve comes from Adam’s side. God ‘builds’ the woman after putting Adam in an ek-stasis—placing him in some kind of state in which he was ‘outside of himself’—in which he slept. Let us note, even if only in passing, how the story of God ‘building’ Eve from the side or rib of Adam while Adam is outside of himself, asleep, corresponds exactly to the Church, the Bride of God, coming forth from the rib or side of the crucified God (Jn 19.34 & Gn 2.21-22; the word in the Greek for ‘rib’ is the same in both passages: ‘pleuran’) who emptied Himself (came out of Himself) and became man (Phil 2.5-11) to the point of death on the cross (falling asleep). Even from this brief sketch, how could one not see that the mystery of woman is at the heart of the biblical vision of human nature and destiny, and central to the mystery of the Incarnation? And so, one is not surprised that this morning’s sign of Jacob’s well is of the woman from Samaria (which, by the way, is opposite Jerusalem as were the mountains opposite Eden where Adam and Eve settled after they were expelled from the Garden).
Can you see how Adam, fashioned by God from the earth, is the earth made by God into a man so that, in Adam, the creation is made able to sing the praises of God? Following these same lines, can you see that Eve, bone of Adam’s bones and flesh of his flesh (Gn 2.23), is Adam made by God into a woman so that, in her, mankind is made able to receive the Seed of God? Through her, God becomes much more than an external object of human devotion. ‘Born of a woman’ (Gal 4.4), God is made able to become flesh (Jn 1.14) as the Son of Man. And, because of that, man is able to be born of the Spirit and His Bride, the Church (Rev 22.17), as a son or daughter of God. (Jn 1.12-13; Lk 3.38) Might this be the theology hiding in woman made as Adam’s ‘help-mate’? It doesn’t mean that she is made to be his servant or maid. It means that she is ‘built’ from his rib as woman in order to ‘help’ him become one with God; for without her, he cannot become a child of God; and, without her, God cannot become a Child of Man.
The story of woman in the Garden shows, it seems to me, that our capacity to receive God is not just of our soul. It’s of our body as well; and, our desire for God is not just a spiritual desire but, somehow, it’s a bodily desire as well. ‘My soul thirsts for Thee, O God,’ cries the Psalmist; ‘my flesh faints for Thee!’ (Ps 63.1) Our desire is not satisfied until we have become not just ‘one spirit’ with the LORD (1 Cor 6.17), but even one flesh with Him. (Eph 5.31)
So, when the LORD prayed, ‘that they may become one even as we are one,’ (Jn 17.22-23) He revealed what was hidden when He built woman from Adam’s rib: to become one with God, not just in our soul but in our flesh as well, is the purpose of human life. For, if God had not ‘built’ the ‘woman’ from Adam, the LORD’s prayer in the Upper Room would have been meaningless, for it would have been impossible. Without the woman, God could never have become one with man, and man could never become one with God. Perhaps we begin to understand why the Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos is so profoundly loved and venerated by Christians!
From this, one can see that the biblical vision of ‘woman’ is itself a deep well of meaning. It ‘goes down’ into the mystery of our nature and destiny. This morning, time barely permits us to draw even but two small pails of ‘Living Water’ from this well, and even from these small pails, we constrain ourselves to drink only a sip or two. Let’s take one more sip from the second pail, the biblical vision of woman, that we’ve been dipping our tongue into.
The ‘woman’, Mary Magdalene, was a prostitute. The Samaritan woman was an adulteress; she’d had five husbands, and, as the LORD said, even the husband she had now was not her husband. Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman, then, are images of fallen Eve; and, so they are images of Israel, God’s faithless bride, likened by the prophets to a prostitute and an adulteress because of her idolatry; and, as images of faithless Israel, they are images of us, for we have all like sheep gone astray (Isa 53.6); there is none who is righteous, no not one.’ (Ps 14.3) As a consequence of our faithlessness, we live in the region and shadow of death. (Isa 9.1-2; Mat 4.17) We try to slake our thirst for the bliss of eternal life with the pleasures of the flesh imbedded in the biological life of our sexuality. That thirst for the eternal can never be satisfied in our sexuality, of course. The pleasures of sexuality come from the dust and are forever going back to the dust. In our soul, the ‘Eve that is within us’, following St Andrew of Crete, we are oriented toward our sexual, biological life; and so, we are ‘wedded unto death,’ following the funeral hymn of St John of Damascus. But, death is not the true husband or LORD of our soul and body. The LORD Jesus Christ is our true LORD. And He is calling out this morning to the Samaritan woman as to ‘Eve’ who has fallen to give Him to drink, to give Him the desire of her soul and body that she may receive the Seed of His body and soul in the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit and so become one with Him in the mystery of the Church’s spiritual marriage.
This man whom the Samaritan woman finds at the well this morning is the LORD. How did He become man if He wasn’t ‘born of a woman’? (Gal 4.4) Let’s go back to a verse from the Praises of the Saturday Matins for the week of the Myrrhbearers: ‘On the day of Your conception, O LORD, an angel greeted the woman (note well! This, of course, is the New Eve, the Virgin Mary) full of grace, saying, ‘Hail!’ On the day of Your Resurrection, an angel rolls away the stone from Your glorious sepulcher. In place of sadness and death, the first angel brought us promises of joy; the second proclaimed the LORD [the New Adam] as the Giver of Life!’
The risen LORD, through His conception as a man in the womb of ‘a woman,’ has become one with us in our death. (Heb 2.15) Our salvation, then, is not a message, or a school of thought, or a religious idea. It isn’t even a moral code of ethics. It is the resurrection of our soul and body in the destruction of our death by the LORD’s death that He accomplished in our flesh and blood, and receiving from Him, again not a message or a code of conduct (for how do either of those destroy death and give us eternal life?), but the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit so that we become one ‘spirit’ with Him, even one flesh with Him, in His resurrection.
As the ‘Mother of God’ in the flesh, the Virgin has restored woman to her true womanhood as ‘Mother of the Living,’ for in the Theotokos, the woman becomes the Mother of the Living God; and in restoring woman to her true womanhood, the Theotokos, the New Eve has restored Adam, as male and female, to his true nature and destiny as the ‘son [and daughter] of God’ (Lk 3.38). In the woman as the Virgin, the New Eve, God has become one with man; and in the woman as the Church, the Bride of Christ, man can now become one with God in the mystery of the LORD’s Holy Pascha.
Let’s quickly take a sip from the first pail drawn from the well at Harran where Jacob first met his bride, Rachel. (Gn 28.10-29.14) Like his great grandson this morning, Jacob, too, was on a long journey; and, he, too, was sent by his father to look for his bride. Jesus finds the Samaritan ‘woman,’ an image of the fallen Eve, at Jacob’s well. Jacob, however, finds his Rachel when she comes to draw water for her sheep. In the Church’s liturgical imagery, Rachel is an image of the Theotokos, the New Eve. Rachel was Jacob’s cousin, his kin. Jacob rolled the stone away from the well so that she could draw water for her sheep to drink. He kissed her, and told her who he was. She receives him and takes him to her home to meet her father, Laban, Jacob’s uncle; and thus began their courtship.
The story of Jacob meeting Rachel at the well weaves, so it appears to me, at least two mystical threads into a sacred, prophetic veil that reveals even as it hides the mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation and Holy Pascha. The one thread looks like it runs from Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well this morning all the way back to that moment in the Garden when the LORD went looking for the ‘woman,’ Eve and her ‘man’, Adam, crying out, ‘Where are you?’ (Gn 3.9) The other thread comes from the distaff of Rachel. I wonder if it might not be spun from the inner chamber of the most holy Annunciation, when the Virgin is greeted by the Archangel as Rachel was greeted by Jacob, and the Virgin receives the LORD into her womb and transforms Him into a ‘man-child,’ or rather, the ‘God-Man’ Child. I think I see this thread, too, going back to the Garden, to that moment when the LORD reveals to the fallen Eve the healing and salvation that will come through her daughter, the New Eve. But, that reflection we will have to save for another time.
So, now let me conclude by telling you what I see signified in the sign of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in this morning’s Gospel. The LORD’s Incarnation—His conception and birth of a woman, His death on the Cross, His three-day burial, His Resurrection, and His Glorious Ascension—is a love story. In the ‘woman’s’ love for God and in God’s love for the ‘woman’, God has become one with us; and now, we can become one with God. By His death in our flesh, He has destroyed our death; and, in His resurrection, He has given life to us who were dead in our sins and trespasses. Born of a woman, He now gives Himself to us in our own flesh and blood which He has cleansed and made new and holy by creating in us, in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest, a clean heart, putting within us a new and right spirit, and raising us to life in the joy and love of His Holy Resurrection. And, if we receive Him in the ‘Eve that is within us’, we can become one with Him and ‘pass over’ into the ‘love story’ of the bible: the ‘mystery of God’ that is ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ (Col 1.26-27) Amen. Christ is risen!