Day 7: Saturday in the First Week of Lent
What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’
Poor Nicodemus. He is bound to the ordinary. He knows the text. He knows the temple. He knows the rules. He knows the structures of society, the reality of Rome, the office of the High Priest, the presence of Roman soldiers in the fortress built into the corner of the temple square. There are prayers to say and times to say them. There are sacrifices to be offered and rituals to be observed. He knows all this. He is a good man, trying to live honorably. But here, before him, is something he can’t quite grasp. Something compelling. He has no pigeonhole in which to categorize this man, a teacher from the sticks who yet seems profoundly true. So here he is, in the shadows of the night, hoping to understand.
And Jesus gives him this strange, nonsensical answer about being born again. You can’t get back into the womb. Everyone knows you can’t do this. But still Nicodemus tries to puzzle it out. We will meet Nicodemus again in John’s Gospel coming to Jesus’ defense (he will be met with scorn). And we will find Nicodemus at the end, laden with precious oils, joining Joseph of Arimathea to give Jesus an honorable burial. Nicodemus knows there is something deeply important about this Jesus.
Is Jesus playing with Nicodemus? Is he using on purpose this ambiguous word that means ‘again’ but also ‘from above’? Is it a test of this leader of Israel? Or is it from confusion that the possibility of true insight emerges? An ‘Aha!’ moment? God doesn’t fit in our boxes. The work of God is not part of the ordinary. Is it there, where we can’t make things fit any longer, that we are led into a new world, a new vision, a new perception of the truth of life? Is it there, in surrender to the wonder, that we are born of the Spirit?
Is it there where we are immersed in the swirling waters that we are raised up into new life? Is it there, beyond the ordinary, in the extraordinary world of grace immeasurable, of love without limits, that we are swept away into the life that cannot perish?
“What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’”
in the waters of baptism
you grant us new birth as your sons and daughters.
Keep us this day in your steadfast love
that we may walk the path of love and mercy
that is our true and eternal life.
– A prayer for the first week of Lent
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(For a reflection on this week’s theme: “Baptism & the journey of the human spirit”)
(For the sermon on this week’s theme: “A great and terrifying promise”
(For the counting of the days of Lent see the page: Counting to Forty)