Lent is a time of breaking routines.
We all have routines in our lives. Some daily, some weekly, some monthly, some yearly.
We have productive routines, ones that we create with the intention to better ourselves in our daily life and work: like brushing our teeth, exercising, or saying our prayers.
And we have some unproductive routines as well. Routines that we may not necessarily have intended to create, but find ourselves in nonetheless: like eating a whole bag of potato chips at one sitting, or playing Angry Birds for hours on end.
The season of Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to examine the routines of our lives; to break them up a little bit, to re-evaluate and re-shape them, so that we might see things from a different perspective, and in particular, from God’s perspective.
There are a number of liturgical changes in Lent that help us shift and refocus our attention toward God.
For instance, we begin our liturgy with the Penitential Rite, moving the prayer of General Confession to the beginning, to acknowledge right up front our sinfulness before God. This break in routine sets a whole different tone for our corporate worship. It points us to the very heart of our relationship with God.
In Lent, we remove the font of holy water from the church. The absence of holy water is intended to draw our attention to the importance of our baptism, and the essential role that it plays in our life in the church.
And our various Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are all designed to break the normal routines of our lives in order to shift our focus back to God, who is the creator and sustainer of our lives.
Our Lord is no stranger to this idea of breaking routines. During his ministry he was never afraid to question the old routines or challenge the status quo. But he never did so simply for the sake of controversy or rebelliousness. He did so for the sake of Truth.
In John chapter 4, we find Jesus in a city of Samaria at Jacob’s well. He is weary and thirsty. A Samaritan woman comes by the well to draw water, and Jesus asks her for a drink.
To you and me, this sounds like no big deal. So what, Jesus asks a lady for a drink. But in fact, Jesus is breaking two very serious routines. The first is that he spoke with a Samaritan, as Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies. The second is that she was a woman, as it was potentially scandalous for Jesus to be speaking with an unaccompanied woman.
She is noticeably taken aback by Jesus’ behavior: “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” Later we’re told that Jesus’ disciples also marveled that he would do such a thing.
Why did Jesus break these two common customs? Just for the sake of stirring the pot?
No. Jesus knew that the Samaritans were also awaiting a Messiah. He knew that even though the salvation of God comes from the Jews, it is for all people. And so he breaks this social routine and reaches out to the Samaritan woman, and offers her living water. Jesus says, “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This Living Water of which Our Lord spoke “is the grace of the Holy Spirit that leads to eternal life. This gift not only remains in a person, but is so abundant that it overflows to others.” [Orthodox Study Bible, pg. 1429]
The woman is intrigued by these words, and this offering of Living Water. And so she asks Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” So Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answers him, “I have no husband.” Jesus says to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”
When asked about her husband, the woman gives her routine response. “I have no husband.” She tells the truth to Our Lord, but it is only part of the truth. And Jesus knows the full truth. And he confronts her with this Truth.
This exchange between the Samaritan woman and Our Lord is instructive for us in thinking about our own repentance.
When we repent of our sins, we are not informing God of something that He does not know. “Lord, there’s something I need to tell you, I was prideful again today.”
God knows all this already. Just as Jesus knew that the woman had five husbands, and that her current companion was not her husband.
God doesn’t need to be told any of this. He already knows. His only concern is whether or not we know these things of ourselves – and whether we are willing to take responsibility for them. When we repent of our sins, we are acknowledging before God that we know that we have wronged Him.
Jesus’ knowledge of the woman’s personal life clearly shocks her, as it would anyone, and she recognizes it for what it is. She perceives him to be a prophet, and to have some degree of divine wisdom. So she takes the conversation to the next level.
One of the great disputes between the Samaritans and the Jews revolved around the question of worship: Where was the appropriate place to worship Almighty God? The Samaritans had built their own Temple on a nearby mountain. So the woman says to Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” So which one is it?
And again Jesus breaks the routine. “He refuses to answer such an earthly question, and elevates the discussion to the manner in which people ought to worship, in Spirit and in Truth. And even more importantly, He turns the attention to the One we worship: God Himself. The Father is worshiped in Spirit—that is, in the Holy Spirit—and in Truth—that is, in Christ Himself” who is the Truth. [OSB 1429] Jesus himself testifies to this when he says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Jesus testifies to the All-Holy Trinity before this Samaritan woman. Where we worship is not important, but rather how and whom we worship.
Upon hearing this, the woman confesses to Jesus, “I know the Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” At which point Jesus breaks perhaps one of the greatest routines of all for a Jew, when he says to the woman, “I who speak to you am he.”
Jesus’ response to the woman is literally translated “I AM” – as in, Yahweh, the divine name of God, “I AM who speak to you.” “The use of this Name by a mere man was considered blasphemy and punishable by death. However, as Jesus is divine, His use of this Name reveals His unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit; indeed, He is God incarnate.” [OSB 1429]
Jesus consistently broke routines for the sake of revealing the Truth.
This Lenten season, I pray that the daily routines that we have broken up will be solely for the sake of revealing God’s Truth in Christ, to ourselves and to each other.
I pray that like Jesus, we would not be prejudiced by the boundaries of race or gender in our sharing of the Good News of God in Christ.
I pray that in our own repentance, we would not hide from God the full truth of our sins, like Adam in the garden, but rather, that breaking the routines of shamefulness and partial truth, we would acknowledge before God the fullness of our sin, that He might forgive us our sins fully, and receive us back into His loving arms.
And I pray that in Christ, we would not be concerned with any earthly distractions, but that we would devote our whole hearts and lives to the worship of God the Father, in Spirit and in Truth.