2 Chronicles 36, 14-16, 19-23 + Psalm 137 + Ephesians 2, 4-10 + John 3, 14-21
After listening in on the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, it becomes very difficult to separate Mercy and Salvation. The Mercy of God that Jesus has come to reveal is a challenge, and for some a stumbling block in our measured world where everything must be earned, won, or deserved. The struggle of Nicodemus gradually coming to faith is our own. Nicodemus is a trained Pharisee, someone who knows the the law and keeps the law; someone who is convinced that only by observing the law is there any hope for God’s favor and salvation. For Nicodemus, at the beginning it’s all up to us, all a matter of us earning salvation by our perfect observance of the law. It’s as though God’s role in all of this is to be the judge who sits with a score card and counts up the points, or lists the failures.
The message of Jesus that leads Nicodemus beyond that idea is the message of mercy and the invitation to discover and experience the love that God has for all creation. The salvation Jesus reveals is not so much an escape from something as it had been for the Jews saved from slavery, as it is the new beginning of God’s eternal plan for Life, life without end within the Divine. It is a new kind of being as much as a new kind of life. The movement into that life is belief, as John expresses it in the words of Jesus. This belief however is not an intellectual assent to a Creed, a proposition of the intellect, or consent to some verbal expression of dogma. That would make “belief” like a kind of insurance policy!
The belief that Jesus speaks of to us and Nicodemus means that we trust and hope so strongly that we would bet our life on it. It means that we know we have nothing to fear because Christ lifted up has overcome every evil, and to whatever extent we can merge ourselves into Christ, blend our lives into Christ, conform out hearts into Christ, we will know that God’s love, stronger than death, is available to us no matter what. CON-FORM is the whole idea here. It is the ultimate goal of a spiritual life, to form ourselves into Christ. To do this changes everything. It changes the way we look at ourselves together, in relation to God, and the way we look at suffering and death. These are not things we shall escape, suffering and death. Salvation does not mean we escape death or suffering. It means that a God willing to suffer and die without revenge, powerful enough to overcome death is our God who loves and who wills us again and again to wake up and come to life – the real life God planned for us for all ages and forever.
When we are coldly honest with ourselves, we know that this is something we can never earn nor deserve. The betrayal of our own sinfulness, the pride of our willfulness, the madness of our efforts to be like gods, using the words of Genesis, is still not greater than God’s mercy and love. With squinting eyes and measured thoughts, we just can’t quite grasp what has happened to us through the Cross. Like Nicodemus, we are in the dark, the darkness of thinking that we have to do something or say something, to get God’s attention and win God’s favor and love.
No child has to earn a parents love. You parents know that, and remembering that extraordinary truth might lead you to understand God’s love. All you have to do is BE: be born, be a son or daughter, be a child, be in that safe, nurturing, loving relationship. That is what Jesus, Son of God, asks of Nicodemus. If the law does not lead you into a relationship with God and into a loving bond with your neighbor, it is not going to lead to salvation. Rather than making us do something, the law should lead us to become something, faithful children of God. Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, we find our salvation and a share in his glory. That is our hope, and it is the purpose of this holy season that we may come out of the darkness, set aside the deeds of darkness, and become children of the light who live forever in the glorious favor and merciful love of the God who saves.