Pastoral Letter Lent 2023
Third Sunday of Lent, 12 March 2023
Pilgrims of Hopeheading
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We have just shared together one of the most beautiful moments in the Gospel. We heard of a woman who encountered Jesus and found a new life – eternal life. The Samaritan woman reminds us of the familiar Book of Genesis scene as God comes looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden. He finds them hiding in shame and fear. This woman comes to the well at the sixth hour. It is an unusual time to draw water from the well. It is the hottest time of the day. But it is a time when she knows there will be no one else there. It is a time she can hide from the gossip and innuendo of the townsfolk.
But when she arrives at Jacob’s well, someone is waiting for her. Jesus begins the conversation with a simple request, ‘Give me a drink.’ As we heard, this is not such a simple request. It is unusual because it crosses a boundary. ‘Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans.’ The conversation between Jesus and the woman unfolds, and gradually, she comes to realise who Jesus is. First of all, Jesus intrigues her. ‘Are you a greater man than our father Jacob’. Then she comes to know Jesus as a prophet. He reveals something about her personal circumstances which a stranger would not know. And then she comes to know Jesus as the promised Messiah. But this is not the end of the story. The shame and fear of this Samaritan woman is shattered through her encounter with the Lord. She hurries back to her community and shares the good news with the townsfolk. They, in their turn, come out to meet with Jesus. He stays with them and then they are able to say to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’
During this season of Lent, we too find ourselves on a journey. We are invited to walk with the Lord so that we may accept our personal invitation to encounter him as our Saviour on the Cross. The parallel with the story of the Samaritan woman is staring us in the face. Jesus is crucified on the Cross at the sixth hour. He will say to us from the Cross, ‘I am thirsty’. We may gain some insight into the true meaning of this thirst when we remember what happened in the journey of the Samaritan woman. When the disciples returned to Jesus, she ran back to the town to tell the people about what she has come to know. Meanwhile the disciples are urging Jesus to eat. His response is full of mystery, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ This is the food of accomplished mission. He has reached out to someone and she has responded with faith. In turn, she too has become a missionary. She has a story to tell. This woman’s testimony brings others to Christ.
We are invited to make this journey ourselves. In the first place, we are journeying towards Easter and the grace which awaits those who open their lives to the healing and redeeming power of the Cross. And then, our diocesan family is journeying towards an Assembly at Thornton College on July 7th. The title of our gathering is Pilgrims of Hope. This is the title of the Church’s forthcoming Jubilee Year in 2025. This may all be new to you; the news of our diocesan Assembly and the Church’s next Jubilee Year. I will be writing again about our diocesan Assembly soon after Easter. In my heart, I am convicted of this truth: our Assembly, Pilgrims of Hope, will only bear fruit if it resembles the journeying together of the Lord with the Samaritan woman. We too must come to know who Jesus is, in such a way that we become missionary disciples ourselves.
I know that some parishes are discerning how they might become missionary communities, sharing the witness of their faith with others. In that journey, they find true life. I beg the Lord that all parishes will engage with the prayer and discussion that makes communion, participation and mission a reality throughout our diocesan family. I know that many are still with the Samaritan woman at the beginning of this journey, struggling to make sense of it all. And so, may we all keep this in mind, the Gospel we have shared today puts before us the living mystery of what it means to be Church. This is the Lord’s work, and whatever we seek to do, must be inspired by him and fulfil the truth he has shared with us, ‘anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.’
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Bishop of Northampton
Given at Northampton on Tuesday 7th March, the commemoration of SS Perpetua and Felicity
and appointed to be read or distributed in all churches and chapels of the Diocese on the Third Sunday of Lent, 11th and 12th March, 2023