This Time of Distancing is Revealing New Thirsts

I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

When was the last time you were thirsty? I’m not talking about needing to drink water after a good workout…I mean, when was the last time you were truly parched—like you felt the need to drink water as if your life depended on it?

For me, and I don’t know if this was the most recent time or not, but the first thought that came to my mind was the extreme thirst I would have after a very busy 12-hour shift when I worked as a nurse. Now, let there be no mistake, every shift a nurse works is a busy one, but I’m talking about the shifts that are so crazy—like the “every room on the unit is full and so is the hallway” crazy—so crazy where there are no breaks. No time to eat, no time to go to the restroom, and not even time to stop to get a drink. It’s the kind of crazy busy where you don’t even think about not being able to do these things because there is no other option. Patients in hospitals can’t care for themselves…they need help, and nurses provide that help, and often, that help in literally lifesaving. But it’s specifically after a chaotic shift like this when I would make it all the way home before I would even realize that I was thirsty, but once that thirst was raised to my awareness, I would literally stand at the sink and drink glass after glass gasping for air because breathing would become an afterthought to the thirst-quenching, life-giving water. Every time this happened, after my minutes of frantic guzzling hunched over my kitchen, I would always be amazed that even though I would be on the verge of dehydration I wouldn’t realize my own thirst until I would get home—until I was away from all the chaos, when I knew I could let my guard down, when I felt safe, and when I felt like I could take a break.

In our Gospel this morning, we hear the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman, who has been married five times and is now with a man who is not her husband—this woman, who instead of coming to the well in the cool morning with all the other women of the town comes alone at noon when the sun is blistering hot—this woman, who knows and lives a life of extreme isolation and marginalization day in and day out, who lives a life where this pattern has become her norm—this woman…has not received a break in a very long time. But unlike every other day, today, instead of being alone, she encounters Jesus. It may not seem like much, but when this Jewish man asks this Samaritan woman for something to drink, her world—her reality—her perspective was changed. In this moment, for the first time in a long time this woman is feeling something different. The kindness displayed by Jesus was what this woman needed to feel seen and known and accepted and loved. Even though she is at the well, in this moment, she realizes that it is not water that she is thirsting for—after her encounter with Jesus, a thirst was revealed that she didn’t even know she needed—a thirst for relationship—a thirst for connection. And it was clear that the love that Jesus displayed was the only thing that would quench this new thirst.

As many of you know, here at All Saints’ we have Morning Prayer every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 7:45am, and it is regularly attended by 4-7 people. This past Thursday, the clergy of the diocese received word that all in-person worship services were to be suspended. The announcement came too late in the evening for Morning Prayer to be cancelled, so as I sat and prayed with this group of regular worshippers on Friday morning, I kept thinking to myself, “I have no idea when we will be together again.” After Morning Prayer had finished, as I was wiping the tears from my cheeks, I told them the news and I instantly saw the pain and sadness in their eyes. After we cried and prayed a little more, the time came for them to leave. Like usual, I walked them out, but after I said goodbye, I closed the front door behind them, and when I pushed the big brass lock to secure the front entrance, I stood there, and I felt so alone.

Is this what the woman at the well felt like? Disconnected…isolated. Is this how you are feeling?

I might not be crazy busy running around taking care of patients in a hospital, but with all that is happening in the world, with things changing from minute to minute, I am feeling like I haven’t had a break. Instead of going from one patient to the other, my mind races from moving to one feeling to another. I am overwhelmed with sadness that we are not all physically here in this space together. I feel anxious when I think about how long we may be apart. I am fearful of this new disease and how it might affect me, my loved ones, and those most vulnerable. When I start to think about the different ways this world has been affected by this pandemic, I begin to feel helpless.

Most of us in the world have never experienced anything like what is happening to us and all around us. Until this week, I had never heard the term “social-distancing” or thought about “flattening a curve” but if I’m going to be honest, I have felt fearful, anxious, and helpless in the past. Looking back at previous times, I remember feeling like nothing would ever be better—too caught up in the busy moment to realize what I needed…what it was I was thirsty for. But like the safety I felt at home after a crazy shift, or the love that the Samaritan woman experienced at the well, we need to first think and pray about what we thirst for, and second, ask ourselves what will quench that thirst?

I have a friend who is on day 8 of a self-quarantine because of her exposure to COVID-19. When I asked how she was doing, she started crying and said, “I just realized I have never gone this long without someone hugging me.” My friend is thirsting for hugs. I know there are many people watching via Facebook, but I’ve never given a sermon to an empty sanctuary, and let me tell you, it isn’t that great. I am thirsty for laughter in this space. This time of social distancing is going to reveal thirsts we didn’t even know we had. I’m already seeing it! This is a deeply loving and caring community, but the drastic increase in texts/calls/emails of offering help to those in need—a willingness to connect by phone or FaceTime is nothing short of amazing. I am seeing a real thirst for relationship, and every time one of you reach out to connect, you are acting as Jesus’ hands and feet and heart in this world—and you begin to quench the thirst that exists. And every time one of you are in need of connection, when you answer the phone or read the text, you are being open to Jesus’ action, just like the woman at the well.

This is an extremely strange, difficult, and trying time, but my prayer during our physical time apart is that we not only continue to reach out and stay connected, but also be attuned to the new thirsts that are revealed in our distancing. This isn’t easy, but the hope that exists, the potential good news that is very likely, is that by thirsting for one another, we will, with God’s help, quench each other’s thirst and be closer as a community when we come back together.