Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday II

Last night's readings were Joel 2:12-19 and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. The sermon text was John 3:1-21, 19:39.

Nicodemus doubted, then believed. How is this connected to the Lenten season? He brought spices for Jesus' body after the Crucifixion. We normally associate Thomas with doubting. Yet Nicodemus, too, has a remarkable turnaround.

Nicodemus came at night - in John's gospel, signifying ignorance of God the Christ. When Judas left to betray Jesus, "it was night." In Nicodemus's case, he wasn't ignoranct of the Scriptures at all. Yet, although he doesn't really get it and is incredulous, he still comes to ask.

The word Christ used, "born again," can also be expressed "born from above." Jesus means the latter (Nicodemus misunderstands) and explains: water and the Spirit (the washing of Baptism, separate from the endless Pharisaical ablutions). Nicodemus could only understand tangible, physical things. But he needed also to see the spiritual depth of His words. Faith, living faith, is the key to this. And you can't obtain or sustain it yourself.

A certain part of Christ's message stuck and sticks today: John 3:16. During the trial, Nicodemus wanted to give Jesus a fair, public hearing. But he remained otherwise silent, like so many of us. Later came the last scene: Jesus was dead. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Nicodemus came with Joseph of Arimathea to embalm the body. Was this the moment of faith replacing doubt and unbelief? Probably. God's Word of love embodied had taken root.

May we not be silent when God opens the door for us to speak about Him.

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