Free at last?

"... believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem... true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth..." John 4. 21 & 23

I have just come off an on-line conference concerning digital church: a long-standing event which acquired additional relevance (and participation!) on account of the present crisis. The eureka moment came in the reference, above, to Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well, as recorded by John in chapter 4 of his gospel. The woman belongs to the Samaritan community (who were looked down on by mainstream Jews because they were supposedly descended from those who had been left behind during the exile in Babylon and had intermarried with non-Jews). For their part, Samaritans believed they preserved the original religion of Israel with its base on Mount Gerizim and that the Jerusalem Temple was a false innovation.

Jesus moves the conversation on by encouraging the woman to look beyond religious bickering, in order to understand that faith is not subject to human geo-political rivalry but is a spiritual matter with relationship to God at its heart. We get that! But we, ourselves, have grown up with denominational loyalties and a building-orientated church identity. So is the current crisis forcing the issue again, in a fresh way?

I am not suggesting that God invented Coronavirus to get our attention, punish us, or force our hand. We are under attack. Our immediate priority is damage limitation. But we also need an exit strategy, which is not simply about returning to the ways things were. Rather it must be about learning essential lessons and making necessary changes - concerning who we are and how we behave.

Jesus offered the woman life-giving water. It transformed her and through her, the whole community. Three interesting details emerge. It was meeting Jesus in person that proved transformational and that happened through the witness of the most despised person in town: forced to collect her water at the most inhospitable time of the day, when no one else was around... except Jesus!

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