Transcending Barriers

Image Credit: Rodney Smith

Image Credit: Rodney Smith

Rev. Don Beyers, Assistant Curate

When we think of Baptism, we immediately think of water. Yet there is another, equally important symbol in the baptismal rite: chrism oil. After a person is immersed in the waters, oil is poured over their head or marked on their forehead. 

The anointing is a deeply symbolic gesture. Born into new life through the waters of Baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own. Not only are we marked as sons and daughters of the God who loves us, we become like him who saved us: Jesus. That one small gesture radically reminds us of our new vocation to be Christ to the world.

A little background might help us understand this more fully. In biblical times, kings were anointed as a sign of their new mission to be leaders of God’s people and to ensure God’s kingdom, Israel. Over time, the kingly vocation took on new meaning as Israel’s existence was threatened by foreign conquest. The people began to long for a king who would liberate Israel and make of it a great nation as promised by God. This king would be in the line of David and would be the anointed one of God, otherwise known as the Messiah, a word meaning anointed one.

When Jesus began his ministry, people began to look to him as the Messiah, the liberator of God’s people. As such, his early disciples and Christian communities began to call him the Messiah, for in him they encountered God’s saving and liberating grace. Jesus was the anointed one of God. In Greek, the title messiah is translated as Christos, or anointed one. Thus we call Jesus, the Christ.

Although the gospels and other books of the New Testament attest to Jesus’ complete and total redemption of humanity by his death and resurrection, the early Christian community listened and adhered to Jesus’ command to proclaim, through word and deed, his saving grace to the whole world. The Church, the Body of Christ, became the living presence of Jesus in the world and continues to proclaim through works of justice and peace his saving grace.

Baptism, therefore, became the sacrament by which we are born into new life and into the Body of Christ, the Church. Each and every member of that body has a vocation to be Christ to the world. Symbolizing and manifesting that vocation, we anoint the newly baptized and command them to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.

But how do we do that?

To understand our vocation to be Christ to the world, we turn to the gospels and see how Jesus lived and acted among God’s people. Today’s reading from the Gospel of John offers a profound insight into what our life and ministry ought to be if we are to be Jesus. We, like Jesus, are called to transcend all boundaries and seek relationships with all God’s people.

The story of Jesus’ visit with the Samaritan woman at the well is perhaps one of the most remarkable stories of all the gospels. It stands in striking contrast to the story of Nicodemus we heard proclaimed last week, the story which Fr. Jason spoke about. And if we pay close attention to this story, it ought to challenge us as it did the Jews who heard it proclaimed so long ago.

Unfortunately, however, we romanticize the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. In truth, however, the story is rather scandalous. It is a story of Jesus fundamentally violating the religious laws of his time. First of all, he sits with a woman. A single man never did that. Moreover, he sits with a Samaritan woman, a person from a much-despised ethnic group. Samaritans were once members of the Jewish people and were accused of not maintaining complete fidelity to God’s law because they intermarried with the people who once occupied the promised land. Finally, Jesus sits and talks with a woman who seems to have a questionable past. 

Despite all that, Jesus remains with the woman and talks with her. He forms a relationship with her. He asks her questions about her life and story. Although the woman is hesitant and uneasy about Jesus’ behaviour and questions, she remains with him, astounded by his knowledge of her, and his courage to defy the cherished laws of his day.

Remarkably, the conversation Jesus has with the Samaritan woman is the longest recorded conversation in the entire Gospel of John. No other figure has such a long dialogue with Jesus. It is also the first time Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus’ attentiveness and care for the woman inspires her to go and tell others in her community about Jesus. The Samaritan woman becomes the first evangelist.

Imagine the shock experienced by Jesus’ disciples who come along and find Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman. Jesus talks with a woman! A woman known for her questionable life! And he choses to reveal himself to her and inspires her to proclaim the good news! The early hearers of this gospel story would have been deeply troubled. So, too, should we. Particularly as this account closely follows the story of Nicodemus, a highly-regarded teacher of the faith who was unable to understand Jesus’ teachings and know him. Jesus didn’t reveal himself to him, but rather to a woman.

If we are to be Christ to others, we must live and act as Jesus did so long ago.  We have to listen carefully to this gospel story and ponder it deep in our hearts. Jesus’ words and actions challenge us to go well beyond our comfort zones, well beyond the borders and divisions we make, to proclaim the good news of our salvation. We must sit with all God’s people and form relationship with them. 

To be sure, this is a difficult thing to do. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it difficult to relate to certain people. It’s much more comfortable for me to form relationships with those with whom I agree or identify. But God calls me not to comfort, but to go where I am most challenged and love all God’s people. I am called to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation to everyone, not just the righteous few. And so are you. Remember, you were baptized and called to the same vocation I was: to be Christ to all God’s people.

This is particularly true today, at a time when so many walls and divisions are being made between different peoples. Around our world whole groups of people are being forced out of their homes because of their religious, racial and ethnic identity, and social class. We are creating divisions within our own communities, between the right and left, black and white, rich and poor. Even within our churches there is division, either because of long-held hurts or deeply-held opinions. 

In Christ, however, there is no division. We are neither Anglican or Catholic, Canadian or American, conservative or liberal in Christ. Jesus came not for some and not for others, but for all. In Christ, we are all sons and daughters of the God who loved us. 

As Christians, as persons anointed to be Christ in the world, we are called to rise above our differences and come together in prayer as one. Although we may not always agree with one another on all matters, we should never let our differences cause divisions. Rather, like Jesus, we should seek to form relationship, to listen and talk with all God’s people.

This is why we gather around this table and unite ourselves as one in Christ. The sign of peace we shall soon share with each other is not just another ordinary pleasantry, but an expression of our desire to be as one. Only then can we stand and offer our great sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. Only then can we partake of the one bread, one cup, and be nourished and fed by Christ himself.

My friends, will you join with me and be Christ to all God’s people? Will you show gracious hospitality and welcome all to the table? We may be amazed if we do. We might just inspire another person to go out, like that Samaritan woman so long ago, and tell others about the love of God encountered in our midst.