In the Spirit

By James Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of John 4:16-26

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”


I confess that Epiphany is not my favorite season. I am much more of a “purple” Christian, preferring the longing in the darkness of Advent, or the bright sadness rooted in the Lenten confession of sin. But in today’s gospel reading, Jesus reminds us that the worship of God is not about our “druthers.” In fact, it is not even about our surroundings or location, but dependent only on the Spirit. In this way, Jesus underscores the trinitarian nature of worship.

Jesus encounters the woman of Samaria, who notes that her forefathers and those of Jesus argue that God must be worshipped in two different physical places: hers on the mountain, and his in Jerusalem. Jesus does not engage in the debate, but merely sets it aside, saying that “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” What are we to make of this?

One view of the Trinity is that the Father eternally begets the Son, and then their mutual delight consists in the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. When we gather in the name of Christ to worship the Father, we are therefore entering into the space between, into the Spirit, which is love and delight. It is not we, then, who “produce” worship. Just as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words in our prayers to the Father, so he also intercedes for us with joys too high for songs in our worship of the Father.

Let’s face it: We do not always feel like worshipping, and sometimes it feels like we’re merely “going through the motions.” Take heart: When you go through those motions and say those words, you are gathering in the name of Christ with other Christians past and present, and your worship is perfected in the weakness of your spirit by the Spirit who is called Holy.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Kadugli and Nuba Mountains – Episcopal Church of Sudan
The Diocese of Pittsburgh


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