Lent 3A 2005 John 4:5-42
Water. We are surrounded by so much water that we hardly think about it in our daily lives. Most of us have only to look
up to see an inexhaustible supply of it in our creeks and rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. None of us live very far from water
here in the Northern Neck. Much of our recreation time is spent on the water, sailing, boating, fishing, and so forth.
Much of our infrastructure depends on a reliable supply of water: Clothes and car washing, power washing buildings, decks,
boats, and vehicles. Industries such as the menhaden factories, and crab processing. Agriculture here depends on a reliable
rainfall. In other parts of the country, it depends on extensive irrigation. Restaurants and fast food establishments.
I was stationed in New York during a time in which the water supply of New York city was so low because of severe drought
conditions that restaurants began to serve water only upon request, a movement that eventually spread throughout the country,
even to here in the Northern Neck.
But many of us have become worried about the purity of our drinking water supply. So we join the legions of Americans who
install water purification and filtration devices and have bottled water handy for trips and offices.
From early times water occurs in three ways in human experience, as the flood which surrounds and menaces dry land, as the
decisive dispenser of biological life and as the most important means of cleansing. In these qualities it takes on in religious
thought a varied mythical and cultic significance and is also the object of rational consideration in natural philosophy and
During Old Testament times the Hebrew and Greek word for water becomes a generic term for something which can appear in many
forms: meteorological phenomena like clouds, mist, haze, rain, snow, hail, dew; geographical like springs, brooks, streams,
rivers, canals, ponds, lakes, seas; fountains and cisterns; biological as in drinking and cooking; domestic use for bathing
and laundering; and various commercial uses such as pickling the travel fish for which Palestine was famous and which were
the fish of the feeding of the five thousand.
The notions which the Old Testament scriptures links with the term, on the basis of Israel’s experience of salvation
history, arise out of the water situation in Palestine and the ancient oriental view of the world. Since Israel lived in a
country poor in water resources its statements about water are influenced by ideas concerning the provision of water.
There is no assurance of water for either men or plants in Palestine. Water supply is always threatened. Hence bread and
water are given equal emphasis in the Old Testament as vital necessities. In fact, the ability of water to quench thirst
and nourish plant life – grain, particularly -- is a is a powerful biblical metaphor in both Old and New Testaments
Scriptures: God is the source of living water. The desire for God or His Word is like thirst for the water which is vitally
necessary, (Ps. 42:1; Am. 8:11 f). Those who belong to Him are like the flock drinking at the source of water (Ps. 23:2),
or the tree by the brook (Ps. 1:3; Jer. 17:8). In the time of salvation Israel will be “like a watered garden, and like
a spring of water, whose waters fail not….” (Is. 58:11). (1)
The role of water in Holy Baptism reflects this powerful metaphor. But it goes beyond the metaphor to the reality of the
living water of today’s Gospel lection. The water of Baptism is living water, living because of the presence of the
Holy Spirit and the invocation of the Holy Trinity. Each child of God, after his or her baptism, regardless of age, is marked
on the forehead with the sign of the cross with oil of chrism: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked
as Christ’s own forever.” (BCP 308)
The Thanksgiving over the Water in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism captures the sense of this:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage
in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus
received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy
Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his
resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in
the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (BCP 306-307)
These words are called anamnesis, liturgical remembering. The reading of scripture and the Great Thanksgiving Prayer of Consecration
of the bread and wine – with water added to the wine -- for Holy Communion are also anamnesis.
So when Jesus sits down on the curb of the well on that hot dry day in Samaria, and speaks of living water, he speaks with
power beyond the words he uses.
In our Thursday evening Lenten Study we are dealing with Resurrection, first The Resurrection, that of Jesus, but also with
what we believe about our own. In the Judaism of Jesus’ time there was a debate going on about resurrection –
whether there was one or not. In general most Jews of the time inclined toward the Sadducees, who did not believe in the
resurrection of the body. Eternal life for them meant that one lived on in one’s children and in the continued existence
of Israel as a people and its Temple worship.
When Jesus first answered the woman at the well, he said, "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."
Living water. Until Jesus, living water simply meant flowing water, like that flowing into Jacob’s well, where the
gospel story for today takes place. Or it meant water flowing in streams and rivers or out of the rock at Horeb struck by
Moses in the desert wilderness at God’s command. But only with the first coming of Jesus does the term begin to connote
the water of eternal life, the water of salvation. The Greek is udwr zoe (udor zoe), living water. Zoe comes into English
as a name for girls. We even baptized a Zoe here in this church, Vicki Harding’s oldest grandchild. Zoe is a lovely
name and its simplest meaning is – simply – life.
Water is essential to life. We routinely use water for drinking, cooking, and washing – the three most common tasks.
Without this ordinary water we would soon die. We drink it and cook in it and wash with it over and over again, gallons
of it each day. It is one of the three most basic physical human needs – air, water, food. And we need this water
But the living water of Jesus is the unseen water of our lives. It flows constantly from God into us. It animates our spirits,
refreshes and strengthens our thirsty souls. We bear it with us as we go into the world. And remember: “You are
sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
1. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, VIII, 314-333.