Each gospel in Lent brings us the good news but reminds us that grace can only come at a cost. A shadow falls in each episode pointing to Jesus’ looming death. How does this make you feel? Are you one of those who feels awkward about so much ‘bad news’ getting in the way of your Jesus? I once knew a church musician who hated singing any songs in a minor key. Too gloomy!
Jesus cleanses the temple in John’s gospel, engaging in a kind of dramatic prophetic protest, a kind of ‘demonstration’ in today’s terms. The good news: the Father’s house is not a marketplace; God’s presence cannot be traded. Perhaps Jesus’ passionate ‘zeal’ for the temple can be understood in Jewish tradition: the heritage of David and Solomon; God’s holiness, mercy, law or praises; the restoration of Jewish glory in the new (second) temple. But to Jesus this is personal. God dwells within him.
Tear down this temple, and in three days I will arise!
So much judgmental condemnation has been proclaimed through John 3:16 that some hesitate to preach it at all. A shame, because in these words is grace for today, not darkness hereafter. The lenten shadow falls: the Son of God will be crucified, lifted up like Moses’ bronze snake for healing. In John, however, the lifting up of Jesus is a sign that God’s work over ignorance and division is already complete (John 8:28, 12:32, and 19:30).
‘Already’ is a powerful word. While Jesus did not come to condemn the world, John tells us, those who reject his way of light are ‘condemned already’ simply because they have chosen to live in the darkness outside God’s grace. John calls that grace ‘eternal life’. Not so much forever and ever, but the ‘eternal quality’ of life lived already in the light of Christ. In the gospels the images of eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven, mean human life lived in God’s love, light and grace. They may last forever but they definitely begin here and now.
How is ‘eternal life’ already a part of your living? How can we shine the light of eternity into the darkness of today, so that others will understand and want to live in God’s light?
Holy Week draws closer. Jesus approaches death. Business goes on as usual, but Jesus goes deep into rumination, anxiety, disappointment and defiance. He meditates on the fruitlessness of grain not buried; of loving this world or the world of eternity. Greeks come, curious outsiders. Does Jesus even meet them? Are his words directed to them and by extension, to us, distant in geography and history but embraced nonetheless by the glorified Name revealed in the power of Jesus’ self-giving love?
John’s gospel is rich and complex. It does not always easily yield its riches. Can I ask you please to pray for those who will be preaching this gospel, this week? These words need hard study and deep, honest, reflective meditation to come to life. Preacher and listener need to explore these fundamental questions: How is God glorified in the crucifixion of Jesus? How is the ruler of this world defeated? And how will all people be drawn towards the one ‘lifted up’ on the cross?
When you face dark or anxious times, which face of the gospel focuses your faith?
25 March – Palm Sunday
Let’s pause with the epistle reading rather than the gospel today. You probably know that this was an early Christian hymn. You may know a good tune! We should have sung this every Sunday in Lent, committing ourselves to the mind of Jesus Christ, his humility and glory.
My biblical studies degree taught me this Greek poem is V-shaped. Jesus starts high ‘in the form of God’, then descends through human slavery to death on the cross, the bottom of the V. From that low point, he rises from death, is exalted and worshiped as Lord by every creature in the universe. But our Lenten Gospels have encouraged us to see both the shadow of death in the good news of Jesus, and the glory of God in those shadows. When Jesus is in the form of a slave, in human form, he is most ‘obedient’. He is at one with God’s mind and heart, who loves us unconditionally and never leaves us God-forsaken. That’s why God lifts Jesus into glory and honour, and us with him, if our knees and tongues will join this cosmic choir.
Through Holy Week, Good Friday and into Easter, remember that Jesus is in the world not above it. He is doing and preaching the good news, suffering among us and for us, speaking, praying and touching us with God’s grace. It is at the bottom of the V that God in Christ is closest to us all.
Rev. Graham Perry is the Presbytery Minister of the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery.