The One True Font

By Manoj Zacharia

“God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

As your pastor, I would like us to focus on what is certain amid a period of global, national, and local uncertainty. This morning in our collect, we joined with a multitude of Christians praying the sixth-century words St. Gregory: “We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”

Moses, traveling in the wilderness with a multitude of former slaves, understood that he had no power in himself to help the sojourners. Their journey was trying, for they carried the bare minimum.

Confronted with thirst, they asked their leader to “give them water.” They were probably thinking: “Moses, who encouraged and freed us from shackles, who performed spectacular feats confronting the evil of Pharaoh, can give the water that we need.”

Without this water, they will not be able to move on.

And the reality is that Moses is also thirsty, hungry, and tired. He knows that he has no power in this situation.

He too is frustrated, for where is water to come from in dry land?

In utter despair, he cries out to God from the very depths of his soul: “What shall I do with this people?”

Amid the disarray and frustration of his nation, Moses’ prayer reveals the truth that there are limits to what a leader, albeit a talented former prince of mighty Egypt, schooled in the greatest halls of philosophy and science, can do.

St. Paul writes to the Church of Rome about 1,500 years later that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

In confronting his own realization and doubt, does Moses really believe that his current suffering will produce hope?”

Moses recognized that he has no power in himself to help himself and the people of Israel.

He literally taps into the rock, God, who is his refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). What flows from that rock is the water of life.

It is that spring of life and hope that flows from the rock that ripples the chorus that “we will not fear, though the earth be moved and though the mountains of this life be toppled into the depths of the sea.”

The water that flows from this rock ripples with the echo that there is no need to fear because “the Lord of hosts is with us even when the nations make much ado and the kingdoms are shaken, even then, God is in our midst” (Ps. 46:6-8).

As Christians, we recognize that it is God incarnate in Jesus, who gives us the gift of eternal water.

This truth is revealed when an intelligent woman, who drew water at Sychar, is drawn into a deep philosophical conversation with the water’s source, Jesus.

Jacob’s well is not deep enough to contain the amount of water she needs, for her soul is thirsty and nothing but the deep waters of eternal salvation can satiate her.

Despite her wit, and beauty, she comes to recognizes that she has no power to help herself.

Neither her innate ability nor the people that surround her life give her meaning and depth.

“For as the deer longs for the water-brooks, her soul is thirsting for God. Her soul thirsts for God, thirsts for the living God, for tears and brokenness have been her food day and night” (Ps. 42).

Jesus invites her to draw from the waters that he alone can give.

The waters that Jesus gives her draws from the font of creation, who is the ultimate truth, the creator of the heavens and the earth.

Today, St. Gregory, Moses, and the Woman at the Well testify to the human condition: “We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”

Our power has been tested over the past few days and certainly has demonstrated that confronted with a microbe, life as we know it comes to a standstill.

For all the advances we have made, we now confront the limits of rationality and ability.

If we realize that we have no power to help ourselves, are we to despair?

In asking myself this question, I remembered an essay by C.S. Lewis: “On Living in an Atomic Age.”

With the image of World War II still looming, this 1948 essay draws on an era of fallout shelters, conflict between superpowers and the fear of humanity’s extinction through nuclear annihilation.

Life’s very marrow was sucked dry because of fear.

Lewis poses the question “How are we to live in an atomic age?” For us, the question is “How are we to live in a COVID-19 age?”

Lewis offers insight:

Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.

We were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented, and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.

It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

Lewis suggests that we are to pull ourselves together.

He continues: “If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, and listening to music.”

We are not to be huddled together like frightened sheep thinking about bombs or viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Sisters and brothers, I miss that we are not together in one space rejoicing in the gift of life that God has made real and present in Jesus.

We can either despair or, in the words of Lewis, pull ourselves together.

Remember, the font of life is not found in a specific geographic place or a building, but in a leap of faith — a deep reliance on God, who is disclosed when worshiped in spirit and truth (John 4).

Worshiping in spirit, wherever you are, connects us to the one true font and allows us to receive wisdom from that very source of truth.

Our soul’s thirst will only be quenched when we open ourselves to the ultimate truth — the life spring whose effervescence emanates genuine insight and meaning.

We pull ourselves together by drinking from the fountain of eternal life, Jesus.

Since we do not have power in ourselves to help ourselves, God through Jesus gives us sustenance: sustenance through the water of baptism, parts the turbulent waters of life, and allows us to journey on its riverbed, moving from despair to hope.

The hope of the promised Land continues to inspire discoveries and advances in science and technology.

Such scientific and technological insight, when used for the common good, draw us into further connection and wholeness.

Let us pray that God, who calls the church to pull ourselves together by relying on the ground of all existence, continues to brood over our minds so that our book knowledge and experiments may turn into divine inspiration and godly wisdom, so that we are able to confront any and all our adversities with eyes fixed on the resurrection of Jesus.

Take care of yourselves, for your body is the temple of the living God (1 Cor. 6:19-20), continue to work in care for one another and the community, being mindful of the needs of those who are the most vulnerable in this situation.

May the words of our collect continuously be our prayer during this epidemic:

“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul. Amen.”

The Rev. Manoj Zacharia is rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Annapolis, Maryland.


Online Archives