The Third Sunday in Lent
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos basados en el leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé.
The Israelites grumble about their thirst in the desert. God leads Moses to strike the rock at Horeb with his staff to supply all they need and more.
Psalm response: Psalm 95 (UMH 814).
Response 1 with Tone 2 in C minor [Chant setting in UMH, number 91].
Justified by faith, through God's grace in Jesus Christ, we have peace with God and assurance of moving on to entire salvation.
Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for water invites her to drink living water that could slake her thirst forever.
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Keeping time with Christ: This is the third Sunday in Lent, Year A. We continue in John’s gospels with encounters with people who make us aware of our need for salvation. Today, it is the woman at the well. Next week, we meet a man born blind. In two weeks, we encounter Lazarus, dead for four days, and his two sisters. In encountering them, we also encounter our own thirst, our own blindness and the stench of our own spiritual deadness. For a suggested plan for this whole season, see Planning for Worship during Lent, Year A: Living Our Baptismal Calling.
Holy Week begins on April 13 with Palm/Passion Sunday. If you have not already done so, plan now for a complete celebration of the week, including services for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Great Vigil (see BOW 343-376 for resources, descriptions and service orders, and the link above for thorough instructions and suggestions for The Great Vigil). Readings for each day are available on the Discipleship Ministries worship website (click on April at the top of the list, and scroll down slightly). If you do not plan to gather for services in your worship space, consider organizing smaller gatherings at homes throughout this week (especially Monday-Wednesday) using these texts as guides for your prayer and reflection.
The One Great Hour of Sharing offering is received next week, March 30, the fourth Sunday in Lent. This denominational offering underwrites the administrative costs of the United Methodist Committee on Relief so it can continue to offer worldwide emergency relief and long-term disaster support with no overhead for its direct services.
April 13-19 Holy Week
April 13: Palm/Passion Sunday
April 17: Maundy Thursday
April 18: Good Friday
May 5-11 Christian Family Week
May 17-18 Change the World Weekend
May 24 Aldersgate Day
May 26 Memorial Day (USA)
May 29 Ascension of the Lord
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Atmospherics: Called to Drink and Share Living Water
First, an admission—and something for you to start reckoning with in worship planning for this and the next several Sundays. The gospel readings from John from now through Lent 5 and the gospel reading from Matthew on Palm/Passion Sunday are very long, the longest of any four consecutive weeks in the three-year cycle. So you will need to plan worship carefully to make sure these readings, the central readings for each of these Sundays, are well-read and truly heard.
Part of that planning is to let the congregation know this in advance—not to scare them off, or give them permission to tune out. They will tune out if you don’t notify them or don’t read well. As you prepare your congregation, share how the importance of these readings warrants their length and how you and your worship planning team will be working to make sure folks don’t get overwhelmed and feel like they have to tune out. So be sure to read the suggestions below for Embodying the Word this week and the following weeks, and use or adapt what may work best for your in your setting.
Thirst is a consistent theme today, and the calling is to recognize it, drink living water, and share the stories of what happens when we do. We hear of the thirst of the Israelites who wonder whether they have been led into the desert to die. We overhear an extended conversation between Jesus (who is physically thirsty) and a Samaritan woman about thirst and the capacity of Jesus to offer streams of water that well up to eternal life so she will never thirst again. And Romans reminds that in Jesus Christ, the love of God has been poured into our hearts, like ever-flowing streams of water, through the Holy Spirit.
People experience thirst of all sorts, and different cultures offer different ways to slake them, some more effective than others. In the United States, the most popular “thirst quenchers” may increase thirst in the long run, as carbonation, caffeine, alcohol and sugar conspire in any combination to reduce the net fluids of the body. Bottled water sells these days in an amazing variety of forms commanding high prices, but all the plastic bottles it comes in add to our carbon and pollution footprint. What we offer for thirst only guarantees that our thirst will increase!
Let the form or forms of thirst you see in your own life and the lives of the people around you guide your prayer and preparation for this Sunday
But don’t stop there. None of these texts stop there. Instead, all of them, especially the gospel, point us to God, the source of living water, a stream that never runs dry, and to what happens when it is God who truly and completely quenches our thirst.
Water gushes from the rock at Horeb, quenching parched throats. God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. And the woman at the well becomes a stream of living water, sharing the life she has found with all around her, so they, too, come to believe and become such streams for others.
This water that Jesus offers truly springs up into eternal life for all who drink, and share.
In Your Planning Team
Discuss: What is the thirst around you like?
Are people parched and desperate, as in Exodus? If so, consider desert imagery as part of what you draw from for worship design and texts today—but keep the font full and front and center!
Are folks where you are trying all sorts of things to satisfy a spiritual thirst, yet coming away empty, like the woman at the well in John? Consider using images of the many ways the culture around you offers to slake your thirst.
Are people where you are full of knowledge or possessions, but lacking in the overflow of the Spirit described in Romans? Put another way, are they clear about what they know, but less clear about a living relationship with the One who knows and calls us to salvation?
Who in your midst has stories to tell of receiving living water and finding it too good not to share with others?
Remember, this season of Lent is all about preparing people not simply for the ritual of baptism, but for life as the baptized! And that life is not only about receiving living water, but sharing it with all around us. So if you plan nothing else as a response to the Word today, plan a time for two or three people to share their stories in some way—perhaps live, or perhaps on video, or perhaps via art or music—their stories of receiving and sharing new life in Jesus Christ.
And as you pray over the candidates for baptism in worship today, ask all to pray that these persons may too, not only receive, but know the deep joy of sharing what they have received!
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Font: Front, Center, Filled and Flowing! A bit of personal testimony here. I’ve had occasion to attend worship in two newer worship spaces of other denominations (Episcopal and Roman Catholic). Both of these congregations had installed very large fonts (large enough to immerse an infant) and a pump system to keep water flowing through them. Even more recently, while I was part of a teaching team in Thailand, we had occasion to borrow a fountain from the United Methodist mission center in Chiang Mai to use in our worship service with musicians and pastors from Laos, Thailand and Nepal. At points of silence in all of these services, the sounds of flowing water could be heard throughout the worship space—an auditory reminder of the presence of the font and the overflowing grace of God, that spring welling up to eternal life. It was a joy to see and hear, not just for me and the worshipers in the U.S., but for our multicultural worshipers across the globe in Thailand as well!
Give prominence to the baptismal font for the rest of Lent. Consider moving it to the center of the worship space. You may have people in your congregation who are gifted and willing to put together some kind of fountain or pool of running water in or near the font. The sound and sight of running water will heighten the connections with the stories we are reading and our preparation for baptism during this season for all ages. However, even if your font is very small, don't simply replace the font or baptismal pool with something else. (In the hotel in Thailand, we didn’t have a font per se at all—so the fountain, actually suggested first by a question from one of the Lao participants, was our primary symbol for that service, and came to have that function for several others through our two weeks there!). Whatever you use as a font is a primary symbol and should never be obscured, put in the closet, or dismissed. If you have a children's time, it could take place at the font or fountain as well, perhaps as a way of telling the story of the water flowing from the rock at Horeb.
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Embodying the Word: The Third Sunday in Lent, Year A
The flow of Exodus into the Psalm for today may seem strange or forced. How does one go from describing the place where the water flowed from the rock as Meribah or Massah (quarreling/testing) to “Come, let us sing to the Lord”? There is a reference back to this event later in the Psalm, but that may seem too late for the connection to be found.
One way to help bridge this gap could be with soundscapes—background sounds that help to capture the mood of the text and the people at various points along the way. Offer a soundscape of people complaining during the first part of the Exodus text. Move to silence during the encounter between Moses and God. Then offer a soundscape of people praising God as the water flows from the rock in verse 6, and keep that soundscape going through verse seven into the beginning of the Psalm. The connection is the relief and praise for flowing water.
Strongly consider singing Psalm 95 as an act of praise today. UMH 91 has an Anglican Chant setting, if you’re adventurous enough to try it. A recent setting you can download and use with a choir can be found here. Or try David Lee’s more contemporary setting here (scroll down to Psalm 95, and download the score in .pdf or the MIDI file if you want to hear it played—just be sure to acknowledge his copyright!).
Romans includes a concatenation that could become the basis for a congregational call and response. You might have the congregation join in the reading of verse 3 as follows:
Reader: And not only that, we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering
Reader: produces endurance, and endurance
Reader: produces character, and character,
Reader: produces hope.
Reader: And hope does not disappoint.
People: Hope never disappoints!
Reader: For the love of God
People: God’s love
Reader: has been poured into our hearts
People: in our hearts
Reader: by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
People: Thank you, God!
Consider how you might apply this approach to other parts of this reading, especially if you plan to preach from Romans today.
One way to help the reading from John keep the worshiping community engaged is to have several readers take the part of the narrator, Jesus, the Samaritan woman, the disciples, and the people of Sychar. The last of these could be the congregation saying verse 42. Or you may order a book that sets this up with a musical refrain for the congregation: Who Calls You by Name: Gospel Proclamation for the Scrutinies by Victoria Tufano and David Haas ( GIA, 1982, item number G-3662). It also has the gospel readings for the next several Sundays set up for dramatic reading. Or you may sing The Faith We Sing 2253, "Water, River, Spirit, Grace,” a simple Thomas Troeger refrain connecting the physical and the Spirit's gracious action. Use it as a sung response at various points during the John reading; for example, after verses 10, 15, 26, 38, and 42.
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Call to Worship:
- Psalm 95. Call to worship and obedience.
- See Season of Ash and Fire , page 30.
Act of Congregational Centering: BOW 470 (Exodus, John) Opening Prayer:
- BOW 467 (Exod.)
- Season of Ash and Fire , page 30.
Canticle: UMH 91. "Canticle of Praise to God" (Psalm)
Prayer for Illumination: See Season of Ash and Fire , page 32.
Response: BOW 174, "Baptismal Prayer" (John)
Prayer of Confession (with invitation and pardon/words of assurance)
- 485 (Exodus)
- See Season of Ash and Fire , pages 30-31.
Words of Assurance: BOW, 617 (Rom.)
Concerns and Prayers:
- Prayer: BOW 375, "A New Heart and a New Spirit" (Romans, John)
- BOW 439, Aldersgate Day (Romans)
- BOW 527, For the World and Its Peoples (John)
- See Season of Ash and Fire , page 33.
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: China, Hong Kong, Macau
Prayer of Thankgsiving at the Offering (if no Communion):
- BOW 556 (Exodus, John)
- See Season of Ash and Fire , page 32
Great Thanksgiving: BOW 60-61 (Seasonal)
Dismissal with Blessing: 529 —Try using the sign of the cross and inviting each person to sign himself or herself on the last line of the prayer. If you started this practice on the first week of Lent, continue until Easter.
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