Hymns and Lessons for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (Cycle A)

Jesus used the phrase “living water” twice, according to the Bible. The first time is in the Gospel reading for this week:  Jesus was tired and sat at a well while his disciples went into town to buy food.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus asked her for a drink.  The Samaritan woman was shocked that Jesus spoke to her because Jesus was a Jew and the Jews hated the Samaritans.  When the disciples returned, THEY would be shocked that Jesus (a devout Jewish man) would be speaking to a woman (ANY woman) in public. In the course of His conversation with her, Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give, will never be thirsty again.  The water that I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:5-26) This is a pretty strange claim.

The second time Jesus used the phrase “living water” was during Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths) in John 7.

Sukkot was a week-long festival commemorating the 40-year journey of the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land. It was one of the three great pilgrimage feasts recorded in the Bible when all Jewish males were required to appear before the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem.  This joyous festival celebrated God’s protection of, provision for, and faithfulness toward His people during their wilderness wanderings. At this festival, God was praised for His gifts of the Law, manna, and water in the wilderness.

During Sukkot, two important ceremonies took place: one involved light and the other involved water.

In the evening, there would be a procession as the priests carried torches around the temple to demonstrate that the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles.  It was while the torches were still burning that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Every morning of this seven day feast, there would be a procession of priests to the Pool of Siloam to draw water.  The priests would then return to the temple and carry the water, in procession, once around the altar with the choir chanting Psalms 113-118.  After this, the water was poured into a silver basin beside the altar as a libation at the morning sacrifice. On the seventh day of the festival, the priests would process around the altar with the water not once but seven times. It was on this last day of the festival, at the high point in the festival, that Jesus cried out loudly, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37-39)

Here the Son is repeating the offer of the Father from Isaiah 55:1 — “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” In fact, Jesus is fulfilling the role of God who “will guide them and lead them beside springs of water” (Isaiah 49:10). God Himself can be called “the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13).  In offering the Spirit (John 7:39) Jesus is claiming to be able to satisfy people’s thirst for God.  His offer shows that Jesus is far more than just a prophet; here we have God Himself offering us life.

Also, in offering them the Spirit, Jesus is claiming that the age to come has already arrived. Just as water flowed from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14), so a river flows from the eschatological temple (Ezekiel 47).  Ezekiel’s vision has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus’ offer in the temple, and it will come to completion in heaven in “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1).  That heavenly water of life is already available through Jesus.  His invitation at the Feast of Tabernacles is repeated in the invitation at the end of the Book of Revelation: “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev 22:17).

In the conversation with the woman at the well and on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the human longing for God is met with God’s own invitation to come and be satisfied.  In Jesus, God’s own desire for us is expressed, and our desire for God is met. Jesus is offering the water of life — the life that flows from God — to each person on earth. It is to Himself that Jesus invites the people to come.

Although no Old Testament verse speaks of living water flowing from within the Messiah, there are many scriptures that speak of God’s provision of water as an image of God’s gift of life.  Many of these texts were read at the Feast of Tabernacles, including today’s Old Testament reading from Exodus 17:1-7 which tells of God’s gift of water from the rock, a rock we later learn was Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 10:4).

When talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). The woman asked Jesus how and where Jesus would get this living water.  He replied, “Whoever drinks of … the water that I give will never thirst.  The water that I shall give will become in [her] a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:13-14).” Jesus Christ is the water of life, and those who are His have an eternal well of living water.

The Processional Hymn for this week is Come Thou Font of Every Blessing .  

All of the verses of this beautiful hymn, sing of the streams of blessing that flow from God’s goodness.  This hymn is based on 1 Samuel 7:12, in which the prophet Samuel raises a stone as a monument to the faithfulness of God.  Samuel named this stone “Ebenezer” which means “Stone of Help.” “Come, Thou fount of ev’ry blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.  While the hope of endless glory fills my heart with joy and love, teach me ever to adore Thee; may I still Thy goodness prove.” With its references to “streams of mercy” this hymn connects with the Living Water of the Gospel.

The Hymn of the Day is “O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts.”

This wonderful hymn is by Bernard of Clairvaux, the medieval reformer and mystic who was called “the honey-tongued doctor” for his eloquent writings on the love of God. “O Jesus, joy of loving hearts, the fount of life, the light of all: From ev’ry bliss that earth imparts we turn, unfilled, to hear Your call. // We taste You, everliving bread, and long to feast upon You still; We drink of You, the fountainhead; Our thirsting souls from You we fill.” With its references to Jesus “the fountainhead from which we drink”, this hymn also connects with the Living Water of the Gospel.

The Distribution Hymn is “Nearer My God to Thee”.

This hymn was allegedly the last song the band played on the Titanic before the ship sank. We are singing this hymn because of the beautiful way it fits with today’s reading from Romans 5:1-8.  St. Paul writes: “… We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. .. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We sing “Then, with my waking thoughts, bright with Thy praise, out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll raise; so by my woes to be, nearer my God to Thee, nearer , my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.” People love this hymn, which was written by Sarah Flower Adams and is based loosely of the story of Jacob’s dream, Genesis 28:11-19. This is a wonderful, contemplative hymn to sing during Lent.

The Recessional Hymn is “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” This hymn was written by Ray Palmer shortly after he graduated from Yale University.  At that time, he had received a vision of Christ.  In response to the vision, he wrote the lyrics to this hymn.  Later, Lowell Mason composed this tune to go with these words.  Sometime later, Mason told Palmer, “You may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of this hymn.” And I think he is.  This is another wonderful, contemplative hymn to sing during Lent.

I hope to see you at worship this weekend.

 

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