Second Week of Lent: Meeting Jesus at Night
This reflection is part of a series of Lenten reflections from United Methodist Women members and Women’s Division staff to accompany you to Easter. See other reflections.
John 3: 1-17
Many theologians throughout history – and even Jesus, himself – have said that the God of love and grace, justice and community is found in the margins, in the darkness. God is found when we finally acknowledge the poverty, the grief and the thirst of our souls.
But, Nicodemus, or “Nick at Night,” didn’t know that. Born from the educated and privileged Pharisaic class, Nick hid behind the night and behind his rich robes, and though tempted and maybe intuitively responding in the affirmative, ultimately refused to meet Jesus that night.
I’ve always been provoked by the fact that at the end of the Gospel of John, after this provocative introduction of Nicodemus in John, chapter 3, Nick at Night provides the grave for Jesus.
Why did he do such a compassionate act after refusing Jesus in no uncertain terms? Do you think his interest in providing a grave might be a final nail in the inkling of hope Nick held in his heart that maybe Jesus was “onto something”? Do you think Nick felt a sense of validation for his decision not to following the Way of Jesus?
“Well, see?” Nick explains to himself. “‘I’ was right. Jesus went too far. We don’t need to be born again; that is just way too wild a concept. What the heck does that mean anyway? We need only do the right thing.” And then he goes on and does an exemplary good deed – providing the grave for this Jesus who was reduced to a criminal on the cross.
Do we suffer from some part of that same “Nick at Night” experience? Hoping we can be judged by our birth, our membership, our righteous acts, our moderated passion, do we determine that there’s a place too far to go, and step back from moving beyond our comfort zones?
Are we willing to give up our entire identity in order to be “born again”? Do we question the radical nature, radical words and radical actions of Jesus’ pure God heart even as we know the truth? Do we continue to want to wear the robes that tell others we’re in control, knowledgeable of spiritual things, and thereby deny our own hungers, thirsts and poverty?
Do we go to Jesus at night, in the comfort of no one really knowing? Is our intuitive and responsive, passionate “yes” to the demanding but freeing nature of really meeting Jesus, covered up with a deadening, grave digging “too far”? In our hopeless, refusal to be born again, do we actually provide the gravesite for the very body of Christ?
How extraordinary it is when people really say “yes” to Christ. Recently, I asked a group of master of divinity students studying the United Nations and its work, “What is at risk by not sharing with your congregations what you’ve learned here about the magnitude of darkness in the world?” There were some really good answers but the deepest one for our purposes was the following: “By not sharing these deep sorrows, I would be furthering the lie that the Body of Christ isn’t powerful enough to transform this brokenness, yes even this horrid brokenness, into the Kingdom of God.” In other words, the brilliant insight: “I’d be providing the grave for the body of Christ.”
“You must be born again,” Jesus tells Nick. “You must step out of your comfort zone, out of your social and personal identity, which is too small; out of the answers that you know so well; and you must put your head and heart into the water of God’s womb and begin anew for the sake of entering the kingdom of God, its work and its love, its hope and its possibilities.”
Holy God, who loved Nicodemus with a graced love even when he rejected such a freeing demand upon his life, love me too. If I may be so bold, I want the identity, the faithfulness, the allegiances, the possibilities of being your body on this earth. Oh Jesus, let me never provide merely the grave for the unfathomable hope the body of Christ is to all the world.