By Thomas E. Wilson, Supply Clergy
Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42; Psalm 95
Also published on Father Tom’s website
Last week I began my reflection with some announcements. The first was a sharing of joy in that Cara Ellen Modisett, a seminarian, was going to preach in my place the next week, today. I thought it was going to be a new voice not faded with years of being a professional Christian, but a voice inviting us to see this Jesus experience in a new light. She is different than I am, and I think the Gospel is like a diamond that can be viewed in so many different facets. She spent a lot of time on vacations on the Outer Banks coming to this church campus playing the piano, keeping in touch with her art, and coming to weekday services. She has served in different churches as a Church Musician in Virginia before she went to Seminary. She knew some of the same people whom I admired,and I enjoyed talking with her and though you would enjoy listening to her.
So now I tell with great disappointment that Cara has had contact with a person who had contact with another person who has tested positive with the Covid19 Virus and she is self-quarantined for two weeks at the Seminary, and will not be here today. Episcopal Churches in the Washington Diocese will also be closed for two weeks out of an abundance of caution. On Friday afternoon our Bishop gave his pastoral direction that all our churches in this diocese also suspend all services until the end of March.
We urge you all to avoid crowds, wash your hand regularly, avoid touching your face with your hands and use hand sanitizers regularly. If you feel sick, stay home and I can visit you and take you communion at home. My reflections and poems are online at my blog site. I will try to tape them in the coming weeks and make them available at the church’s website.
Last week, we tried an exchange of the peace which we dialed down asking people to refrain from hugging and hand shaking, which caused a degree of laughter at our own clumsiness and feeling a bit silly. We have placed hand sanitizers in plain sight to be used when coming forward to receive communion.
We had planned this his week and for the next two weeks to try a different practice at communion. I will stand in the aisle in front of the altar rail with Chalice Bearers at my side. I will give you a wafer of bread and if you wish to instinct—have the bread dipped in the wine, I will dip it and place it in your hand. If, however, you wish to drink from the Chalice, the other Chalice Bearer will serve you. As the Bishop’s letter reminds us, we have more germs on our hands than in our mouths. If you wish to not partake of the wine; that is perfectly all right. It will be clumsy,and we might feel silly, but it is an attempt to come to grips faithfully with a new reality. It reminds me of the 4th grade in upstate New York when I first learned how to ice skate. I felt foolish and looked silly. But after more than a few falls and tears, I was able to play Ice Hockey in the iced over flooded cove close to our house or to find a real sense of peace skating up the river for miles.
Cara, in her note, wrote me that the title of her Homily she was writing before she got news of her need for self-quarantine was to be “Cartwheel In Compline” about a situation that while she was trying to be extra holy while doing compline one evening, the small congregation saw a 40 year old woman in the same room doing cartwheels. She said “The Holy moment turned into laughter which was just right.” When I looked at the lessons again, I saw where Cara might have been heading; about the tension between living in a broken world and trying to hold on to hope.
Aristotle said the difference between Comedy and Tragedy is that Tragedy has to do with Heroes and the powerful who let Hubris lead them into prideful mistakes in judgment which ends in downfall and calls for pity and fear from the audience. Comedy on the other hand deals with ordinary people who, while they have faults are struggling to succeed and the audience feels relief and hope. W. C. Fields once tried to explain humor when he did a bit in a film of trying to play pool with a warped cue stick. If the cue stick broke it would be a tragedy and only loss. However, if it was bent it was comedy as we held on to hope that we could win, and we lived our life as it that were true. We live in a warped world but we believe that there is a hope in the middle of all days.
In the Hebrew Testament lesson for today, the Hebrew Children are incredibly thirsty for water as they wander in the dry wilderness of Sinai, longing for the old days when they were slaves and water was always available from the Nile River in Egypt. With this disruption in their lives, at first,they treated it with good humor as a minor difficulty,but then, as the time went on and the fear increased,they wondered if God was with them or not. Water then flows from the rock and hope returns, flowing like a river, more water than they will ever need, as they get the answer that God is there in the space between them.
In the lesson from John’s Gospel for today, the Samaritan woman is out, alone, in the heat of the day getting water. As the old Noel Coward song goes “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun.” She has a strained relationship with her fellow inhabitants of the town and she probably spent the first couple weeks going out in the noonday sun with feeling silly and clumsy about how her world had turned upside down. She was defensive and angry, in the process of wondering if there would ever be a return to normal. Is there a God that forgives and redeems or is that God only interested in staying in Heaven? Then this Jewish stranger shows up and asks her to do him a favor. Jews and Samaritans hated each other, and she was thinking; “How dare he, a Jew, who looked down on Samaritans as half-breeds, ask her a Samaritan for anything?” She starts to tell him off, but he doesn’t get offended. He understands what she is going through, suggesting that it is peace she longs for. He uses the metaphor of a spring of water bubbling up in her life instead of the well from which she must go alone in humiliation. She longs for that peace. In the conversation, he uncovers her shame and in response,she reacts in anger, going to the choice that many of us go; picking a fight about religion! But Jesus does not rise to the bait and continues to offer peace. She then realizes that God is here in the space between them. In the middle of things falling apart, she finds hope. What she saw only as a tragedy turns into a comedy of joy.
Together, we will be going through some rough times ahead. There will be times we will wonder if God is with us or not. To which we proclaim, each day, sometimes looking silly, clumsy, or haphazardly, God is here in the space between us, with a river of grace washing over us.
I send Cara a copy of second drafts of my poem and reflection and she closed her thank you note back writing: “Please send them my best wishes and prayers for health and peace in the coming weeks, and that I will miss them – St. Andrew’s has had a place in my heart for years, and I look forward to being back there again soon.”
Reading the message, muttering “RATZ” and sighing
something like a Horeb cry, “Is God with us or not?”
After all I had my own plans, wanting control of plot,
where I am the hero, succeeding as if without trying.
Yet, I had to stop and was granted a moment to pray.
for healing of my friend and of the world we lived in.
Full of plague, division, greed, and other kinds of sin,
reminding us; life’s a journey, not a safe place to stay.
She was calling her talk, “Cartwheels at Compline”,
holding a holy living tension, between joy and sorrow,
in the space between the night and dawn of a morrow,
or at least, is what I imagined, her coloring outside a line.
We will now have to wait to hear what she wants to say,
trusting that the love we send is shared as we pray.