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In Lent we await the new life of Easter, signifying our renewal and the promise of new life. Most of us know our failures and weaknesses, and we expend a lot of energy covering them up or hiding from them. This year we have the extra excitement of anticipating the coming of coronavirus in our lives. It is mostly intimidating. Immortal hopes via faith. Fully mortal limitations via life.
We need each other to get through this mess.
Even across the differences we have managed to construct among ourselves, we need each other.
It is tempting, especially for Americans, to embrace the default posture of independence. I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul (Henley’s poem “Invictus”). That is mostly magical thinking, and this week for sure it is mythological verbiage. Human beings are hard-wired for relationship. Research suggests that we are neurologically wired to connect with others; mirror neurons in our brains are stimulated when we’re interacting with other people. The harmony we experience with our friends and loved ones, and the anxiety we confront when faced with social distancing/quarantine are not “merely emotional.” In relationship, our brains actually experience something called synchrony, with brain waves flowing in parallel rhythms. We are healthier when we can experience this. Isolation is stressful.
We need more than one person to accomplish the most important work of getting through life.
This is true, even with God.
A continuing theme in the scripture is that God is all-knowing and all powerful – and still needs people to do divine work in the world. God needs Moses, not just to lead these stubborn chosen people into the promised land, but also to remind them that God is always among them. Paul is a very conscious of God’s need for him to spread the gospel of Christ, though Paul is aware that his short stature, speech impediment, and infirmity render him a surprising messenger.
Jesus relies on other people. All. The. Time. Jesus needs the Samaritan woman, and not just for a drink of water. He needs her for the spreading of the good news that Messiah is here. It is she who leads her town to knowledge of Jesus the Messiah.
What a contrast this woman is to Nicodemus of last week’s gospel! She is a woman, which means that she is of no importance and her name is not recorded. Yet it is she who has the longest conversation with Jesus recorded in any of the gospels. She is a Samaritan, whom the Jews considered idolaters and half-breeds (in every offensive sense of that awful word). She is an outsider in her own culture because of her irregular marital situation (if going to the well at mid-day, instead of early in the morning with the other women, is any indication of her popularity).
Unlike Nicodemus, she is not afraid to share her discovery. She runs right back into Sychar and tells everyone she can that the Messiah is standing right out there at Jacob’s well. In case you missed the shocking nature of this scene, imagine how surprising it would be if one of the more scandalous local personalities (just pick one) were to run into downtown Harrisburg, telling us all that s/he has just encountered the Messiah. But she does. And she must be persuasive, because they all go to check it out.
God needs this woman. Because if Jesus had walked into Sychar by himself, it is likely that no one in that Samaritan town would have listened to the Jewish guy from Galilee. It all starts when he looks up at her and asks her for a cup of water.
We need one another. I am certain that as Christians we get a lot out of being together. That is the reason that coffee hour fellowship is so popular!
We are moving into a season in which contagion will change the way we choose to live. We are already hearing of cancelled church services and performances, closed university campuses, self-imposed social distancing. What will happen in the next month or two is unclear, although that doesn’t seem to stop pundits from making predictions unhindered by a desire to promote rational responses. Dare I suggest that it would be a really good idea to check in with each other regularly, just as we want to wash hands regularly and stop touching our faces? Social media, phone calls, emails are all excellent ways to build our relationships in a time of isolation.
I have joked in the last day or two about social distancing as an introvert’s delight: time alone. And even the introverts among us are going to tire of isolation very quickly. What will we get out of our intentional virtual interactions? Support, encouragement, and an antidote to the anxiety and depression that emerge from solitude and our fear of being invisible.
What does the Samaritan women get out of her encounter with Jesus? She gets to experience the Holy One, without being rejected for her religious confusion or her personal faults. She gets to know that Messiah has come and has chosen to talk with her first. She gets to announce his arrival, which is a sign of her preferred stature in the eyes of God. (How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news!)
This week, and every week, God needs us for the holy work of building relationship and bringing good news. This month, God needs us to practice our loving-kindness in a time when illness may become normative.
God needs us to pick up the phone and remind our neighbor that there is a God, and that it makes a difference.
God needs us to proclaim the good news of intentional serenity in a world where the voices of panic, despair, and hatred are loud and unrelenting.
God needs us to give Christ a drink of water – and perhaps a meal. (Did you bring in some non-perishables for the little food pantry on Cranberry St?)
God needs us to pray for the sick and llonely.
As we move through Lent, ever closer to Easter, it is a good time to ask ourselves: What good work does God need me to do in this world right now? What sort of new life can I offer my neighbor?
The fields are ripe for the harvesting: in a season of anxiety, there is so much to do here in Harrisburg for the sake of Christ. God needs us. And we need each other.
So of course, be safe and practice healthy safe-care. Wash those hands. Use the Purell and the kleenex. And let us try not to be afraid.
Let us pray:
God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart: bring hope and courage to all who wait or work in uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make us the equal of whatever lies ahead. Bring us courage to endure what cannot be avoided, for your will is health and wholeness; you are God, and we need you.
This we pray in Christ our Lord. Amen.
Kayt Sukel. “In Sync: How Humans are Hard-Wired for Social Relationships.” Dana Foundation. November 13, 2019.
Presiding Bishop’s Statement on Coronavirus.