Reminiscere ("remember") is the ancient name for this Second Sunday in Lent. It comes from the first word of the Latin Introit. "Remember, O Lord, Your great mercy and love." The Psalmist asks the Lord who can never forget to remember. I'm asking you who easily forget to remember. In reality the Psalmist and I are doing the same thing. David calls upon God to remember His mercy and love, not because God forgets but because he does.
Remember. Remember the Hound of Heaven. In Bible class we've talked about this early 20th century poem where God is depicted like a bloodhound ever in pursuit of a lost soul. If you've ever heard the relentless baying of a hound after its prey in the quiet woods, you'll never forget it.
Remember Jesus is the Hound of Heaven. I started the reading with verse 4 to show you this. "Now He had to go through Samaria." The word "had" is the Greek word for "necessary." It's a Passion word. There's divine need as part of Jesus' saving ministry for Him to go through Samaria. Besides no one had to go through Samaria. Pious Jews went around it to avoid the unclean Samaritans. Also, note that though the disciples are with Jesus it wasn't necessary for them to go through Samaria only Him.
The Hound of Heaven is on the trail of His prey; a hound on the trail of a rabbit or a bird will go into thickets you can't believe it can get in. Here Jesus pursues a soul into the thicket of Samaria where no Jew thought anyone was save-able. The Samaritans were the result of the Assyrians long ago importing people to marry with the poorest of Jews they left behind. All the derogatory terms full-blooded people have for those not were used for the Samaritans by the Jews. The woman knows this. She can't believe Jesus deigns to speak to her at all for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
She doesn't know the Hound of Heaven is on her trail, and let me tell you it's a stinky one. She isn't apparently un-savable because of her racial makeup, she is un-savable. She's had 5 husbands, and now she's living together, i.e. living in sin, fornicating, having premarital sex. At this time the life expectancy for a woman was 34 years. So 5 husbands in about 20 years and one live in lover. Sure some probably died, but there's skeletons in that there closet and the Hound of Heaven has sniffed them out.
Remember the Hound of Heaven; hear His rhythmic baying echoing behind you on the trail of a lost sinner. Remember that and remember being thirsty. If you've ever been really thirsty, you can't forget it. As a teen I got lost while hunting. It was on a fall, Michigan, Indian Summer Day that became a night. When I came upon a mud puddle, I was so thirsty I drank greedily and thankfully from it.
Wait a minute! Why does Jesus use the idea of thirst with this woman? What does being thirsty have to do with being sinful? Being dirty applies; needing water to wash you applies but being thirsty? Thirst is an image of sinfulness when what you have been drinking doesn't quench your thirst. This running rabbit of a woman whom the Hound pursues thinks she's gotten everything from this well that her ancestor Jacob and his sons did. Jacob and sons are the Church. She thinks the Church lived on the same physical water that she and her fellow Samaritans did as opposed to the Jews who didn't have this well. But the Church no more lives from physical water than from physical bread. The Church lives from spiritual water and bread from heaven. Jesus points out what His prey is lacking. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again."
What she's been drinking is not enough. The woman has a sense of her need but not fully. She can see she lacks but not in a sinful sort of way. Her thirst is not yet guilt. Thirst can be an image of guilt when what you drink becomes bitter, foul to you. Here's where the Hound of Heaven is going to pounce, sink His fangs into her, and kill her once and for all and for good.
The woman shows up at the well all by herself. Drawing water was a woman's work and it was a communal activity. The townswomen went together. Though it was heavy work, the chance to visit was a treat. Yet this woman is alone. It's not the time when the other women went to draw water, and note when the woman hurries back to town whom does she tell? The NASB says she tells the men of the city. You know why? You women sure do.
This woman, this sinful soul that the Hound of Heaven is pursuing is Dolly Parton's Jolene. Dolly describes Jolene thus: "Your beauty is beyond compare/ With flaming locks of auburn hair/ With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green /Your smile is like a breath of spring / Your voice is soft like summer rain/ And I cannot compete with you, Jolene." And in the chorus Dolly pleads, "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ I'm begging of you please don't take my man/ Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ Please don't take him just because you can." Having gotten five men to marry her and a sixth on the line, the women of the town scorned her, hated her. She disgusted them. They loathed her. She was a threat to their marriage.
But what did this beauty see reflected in the water each day when she stooped down to draw water all by herself? She saw you. She saw you on those days when your sin and sinfulness catch up to you. At least that's what she saw today when the Hound of Heaven exposes her sins: "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is you have had 5 husbands and the man you now have is not your husband." And Jolene is caught. By a prophet who is the Messiah and the Hound of Heaven. As a prophet He tells her all she ever did and as Messiah, that is Christ, He saves her from it all.
So how about you? Are you satisfied with what you've been drinking to try and quench the thirst of your soul: power, success, money, sex, drugs, alcohol, friends, hobbies? Do you remember your thirst because what you've been drinking is bitter? On the outside you project beauty, but on the inside there is leanness, meanness, sinfulness. If you pile it all up, it's to heavy, too big for you to deal with. It's crushing you. Ever hear a wounded rabbit? It's a heart wrenching sound. Hounds know it, so do coyotes. Both come running. One to catch it; the other to kill it. You know what sound a soul wounded by his or her sins makes? You chanted it in the Introit: "Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love."
The Lord cannot forget His great mercy and love to you. The question is in your state of agitated, forlorn thirst do you remember the Water of Life that's the only answer to it? Where can you get this Water of Life? It only flows from one source: Jesus. John alone makes a big deal of this. In his Gospel he tells you that when the soldier pierced Jesus' side "at once there came out blood and water." Then some 60 plus years later John writes in his first epistle: Jesus "is He who came by water and blood; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. These 3 testify: The Holy Spirit and the water and the blood; and these 3 agree."
These 3 testify that the holy, perfect, Son of God died in your place for all your sins. It was a real, complete, total death. It was sacrificial to appease the wrath of God against your very many sins. It was unimaginably painful because your sins are worthy of eternal torture, of eternally being burned but never burned up. Your sins should send you to hell where you would be grateful for just a drop of water off someone's finger. Yet, you don't go there because Jesus did already, and flowing from His side is the Blood that forgives you and the Water that enlivens you.
Remember the cover of the Lenten Devotions? There is Christ crucified blood flowing from His hands and feet and blood and water from His side, but it's not falling on the ground. Angels are there with cups capturing these fluids which from any other body would be gross but from Jesus' are life giving and full of grace. This artwork is a way of picturing that the blood and water of Jesus aren't for you at a place called Calvary. Blood and water doesn't flow from Jesus' body there any more. His Blood and Water are found for you in chalice and font, in Word and Sacraments.
Into this font is where you will find the water that flowed from Jesus side. More accurately it's where His Water finds you. All that was in Jesus' holy life and His innocent death are found in this font. Sinners plunged beneath these waters lose all their guilty stains. What happened to little Thomas today happed to you when you were baptized. You were forgiven, rescued from death and the devil, and given eternal salvation.
How can water do such great things? It's not just the water but God's Word that Jesus connected to it. This Baptismal water baptizes you into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Water stuffs you into the wounds of Jesus, into the blood of Jesus, into the water of Jesus where you will thirst no more.
Remember the water of life flowing from the wounded side of Jesus and into the font where you were baptized. And that's the problem. We forget. We dry up. Our catechism directs us to make the sign of the cross over ourselves. Why? As a good luck charm? A meaningless gesture? No, to remember our Baptism, to remember I've been baptized, to remember that the Water of Life that flowed from Jesus' side has washed over me.
Living in Texas, I know you can't forget this. After a dry spell, how withered, brittle, lifeless a plant is, but then comes the water. Remember how quickly it perks up, greens up, livens up. Your sin and sinfulness dry you up to the point you will spontaneously combust in hell. Remember the water of life that ever flows for you in the water and words of your baptism. Remember the Hound of Heaven pursued you just so He could dunk you in this water and quench His thirst for you and yours for Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Lent (20080220); John 4:4-26