Second Sunday of Lent, 2017

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,”
Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.
For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

+++

Nicodemus snuck out
after the sun went down,
after the night fell,
when he was less likely to be seen
by his more skeptical and offended peers.

What had happened earlier that day caused a stir,
to put it lightly.
Nicodemus came because he has heard of,
and perhaps witnessed,
the signs Jesus had been doing.

First there was the wedding at Cana,
where Jesus turned the water into wine.
Then came the attention grabber –
Jesus “cleansed” the temple
of the moneychangers,
fashioning a whip,
driving out the animals,
turning tables, and rebuking those
who would use this holy space
for such an idolatrous thing as money.

This is the one that drew the attention and fury
of the religious elite.
This is the one that drew
the paranoid surveillance of Imperial Rome,
always looking to snuff out insurrection
before it could ignite.

So this high-ranking teacher of Israel
used the darkness to cloak his meeting
with the rabble-rouser peasant from Galilee,
hoping to inconspicuously ask some questions
after Jesus’ eventful entrance
onto the stage of public ministry.

He goes to Jesus, certain of Jesus’ authority
because, as Nicodemus puts it,
“No one can do these signs that you do
apart from the presence of God.”
The signs convinced him.
It was the only thing that makes sense.
He makes his conclusion
based on the evidence
he has seen and heard.

But the tricky thing about travelling in the dark
is that it impairs your own vision as well.
The thick darkness is a good cloak
for moving unnoticed,
but it also proves a difficult condition
for seeing properly what ought to be seen.

Jesus’s response is as dense as the darkness to Nicodemus:
“Very truly, I tell you,
no one can see the kingdom of God
without being born from above.”
Nicodemus mishears Jesus,
and he thinks he said “born again.”
Or maybe it’s the same thing.
Either way, this kind of talk
shakes the walls of this Pharisee’s world.
This can’t happen. There is no way
for someone to be born again.

Jesus digs in, says the same thing again.
Despite the darkness, Jesus sees.
He sees the puzzled look
on Nicodemus’s face and adds,
“Do not be astonished that I said to you,
‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it chooses,
and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know
where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone
who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus still cannot see.

Finally, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you,
we speak of what we know
and testify to what we have seen;
yet you do not receive our testimony.
If I have told you about earthly things
and you do not believe,
how can you believe
if I tell you about heavenly things?”

Indeed, how could he?
This curious Pharisee
who traveled by night
so as not to be seen
simply cannot yet see.

But Nicodemus is a teacher,
an esteemed member of the Jewish elite,
one who knows.
This is an unfamiliar place for him,
being told he does not know,
that he cannot see –
especially the things of heaven, of God.

Yet, maybe this shouldn’t be surprising.
When you stand at the top
of the social and religious pyramid,
when the organization puts you ahead of the rest,
when the system works toward your benefit,
deconstructing that base
is a terrifying possibility.
Perhaps Nicodemus, who did not want to be seen,
simply does not want to see.

Seeing and understanding
would mean losing
some of what makes him who he is,
what gives him his authority.
He would have to be “born again,”
born from above
when his original birth
has worked so well for him.
Starting over from the beginning, from infancy,
would disrupt this whole order
he has working for him.

Sometimes it is easier
to just be in the dark,
to remain un-affected by those truths
that would challenge us to sacrifice privilege,
move us toward compassion,
or push us to really see the plight
of the poor and oppressed.
Sometimes it’s easier to look away,
remain behind the veil,
or to just call it fake news.

But the Light that Shines in the Darkness
has entered the world,
stands in front of Nicodemus, in front of us,
as a beacon that scatters
the darkness that shrouds us.
Jesus speaks of a way of seeing the world
that is life-altering and world-shattering.
It is a world where Water and Spirit
mingle together without separation,
where bread and wine are Body and Blood,
where the order we have tried to force onto the world
is interrupted, disrupted,
and shaken loose by the improvisational wind
of the Spirit of Jesus –
the breath that first animated us
now blowing through the air we breath.
It is New Creation. It is God’s Kingdom here and now,
breaking through the ground and sky and flesh.

But we must not shield our eyes
from the Light of the World,
we who have been conditioned
to see in the dark.
The light must scatter the darkness
and reveal the truth of the World that God loves,
that God has entered,
and that God has saved from condemnation.

Perhaps this is why we remove the trappings
and fast during Lent.
Lent is about removing the clutter,
the chatter, and the usual routine from our lives
in order that we might finally be able to see
the One who is lifted up
for our salvation.

Because when the thick gloom
of darkness enshrouding God’s people
is torn from top to bottom
like a piece of paper – no, like a curtain –
the light that breaks through
reveals the one who is lifted up on the cross,
out of the grave,
and to the right hand of God.
There is no way to see
what is behind this veil of darkness
without light scattering it,
without the revelation of God
to heal our blindness
and transform us by the renewing of our minds,
to knit us together once again
in the womb of baptismal water,
and fill our lungs with the life-giving Spirit.
Wake, o sleeper.
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.

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