Lent 3 (19 March 2017)

John 4.5-42

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well ‘Woman believe me the hour is coming when you will neither, on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father but the hour is coming – and now is – when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship him. God is a Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’  John 4. 21 and 23.

The descendants of the Samaritans still worship on Mount Gerizim but the ancient city of Samaria lies in ruin. The Jews haven’t worshipped on the Temple Mount since the destruction of the temple by the Romans. The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock remain as places of worship for Muslims. All the major monotheistic religions recognise that God is a spirit and that God is to be worshipped in every place and time.

Conflict between adherents of different faiths is an ever-present danger, certainly today, so it is important to encourage mutual understanding and tolerance.

Many years ago our Community held a Jewish/Christian weekend here at Mirfield. Starting on Friday evening Rabbi Julia Neuberger with some members of her synagogue helped us to experience the Sabbath. She is now a Baroness of the United Kingdom and Chief Rabbi of the West London Synagogue. We began our meals with the blessing and sharing of bread and the cup of wine. We played traditional Jewish family games on the Friday evening and went to worship in a synagogue in Leeds on Sabbath morning. On the Saturday evening and on the Sunday they experienced our Christian observance of Sunday. It was a happy meeting and something similar could well be repeated in parishes.

People develop an emotional attachment to places. It may have been a conversion experience or an important family occasion that makes a place very special. They will pray there but should they move away or should that church close they do not want to worship anywhere else. Holy places are wonderful and pilgrimage to them should be encouraged but we must also stress the important truth that God is present and available to all, always and wherever they may be.

Jesus taught that God is Spirit and the true worshippers must worship God in spirit and in truth. ‘Worship in spirit’.  What did he mean? Shakespeare gave a memorable answer in Hamlet. The King, who gained the throne by murdering his own brother, is shown on stage trying to pray but he fails. Finally he exclaims:

‘My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go’. Act III Scene iii

Prayer must be accompanied by thoughts, intentions of the mind, feelings of the heart, expressions of the will. Then it is worship in the spirit.

We might think that worshiping in truth means praying sincerely, honestly, truthfully but here in the Fourth Gospel ‘truth’ has a special meaning.

What is truth? Pilate asked. Jesus didn’t reply. The Truth was standing before Pilate but he didn’t recognise him.

Long before, Peter had done so for he said to Jesus ‘You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God’.

In his last discourse in the Upper Room Jesus told the apostles that he, Jesus, is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus is identified with the Truth, one of the great attributes of God. We are to worship in Spirit and in Truth, that is, in the mind and according to the will of Jesus Christ. For this reason our prayers so often end with the words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

At this hour we gather as God’s Holy People offering true worship in obedience to our Saviour’s command. Here the Truth, that is God, is spiritually present in this Holy Sacrament and we receive him so that his Truth may possess us and make us free.

Crispin Harrison CR