Given that last Wednesday was International Women’s Day, perhaps it is most appropriate for us to hear the story of the Samaritan woman at the well as the Gospel reading this Sunday (March 19).
What lessons should we glean from this beloved story? She was a despised woman, both as a Samaritan, a race of people shunned by the Jews, and as someone whom even her own people considered an outcast.
And yet, who talks to her and actually asks her for a drink of water? Jesus himself. Just imagine the gasps of the other townswomen at the well, the social gathering place of the day!
And then Jesus gives a little lesson about being thirsty and about drinking living water. The Samaritan woman recognizes that this living water is something that she needs: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
We all desire this living water. David the Psalmist also recognized the need for living water in Psalm 42, “Like as the hart (deer) desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God.”
This Sunday’s anthem at the Offertory is perhaps the definitive choral setting of this beloved Psalm. Composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was a prolific English composer, organist and teacher, most widely known for his output of Anglican church music. In addition to choral anthems and organ music, he also composed large-scale choral works with orchestra.
This anthem begins and ends with organ passages so quiet, they are spellbinding. The tag at the end is actually barely audible. The men of the choir give the first statement of the melody and return at the end of the piece with a treble descant superimposed upon it. The middle sections are filled with rich harmonies sung by the full choir.
My colleague, Dr. Jane Gamble, is a Howells scholar and is a member of the Herbert Howells Society.
To accompany this important Howells anthem, she will play one of Howells' major organ works, Psalm Prelude, Op. 32, No. 1, based upon and inspired by Psalm 34:6, “This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.”
May our desire for living water be heard and quenched in this Holy Lenten season.
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