“Lent: The Season of Salvation”
A Sermon Delivered by The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
Genesis 12:1-4a & John 3:1-17
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It’s so popular that it’s sometimes called the baseball passage. Because it is seen on billboards and hand written signs held up by fans at all sorts of sports games.
“It” is John 3:16, one of the most famous verses in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
That verse, from today’s Gospel reading, is a beautiful summary, from the lips of the Savior, of the heart of salvation. Luther said it’s the “Gospel in miniature.” It forms the foundation of our Christian faith. Because, being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, a philosophical premise or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. And that is an apt description of the season of Lent: a transforming encounter with a person, the Son of God, who gives us life, direction, purpose.
Nicodemus, a learned man who spent a lot of time pondering the scriptures and discussing the law with his colleagues, a powerful Pharisee, a person of influence and affluence. It’s this Nicodemus who sought out an encounter with Jesus. He came at night, creeping quietly, stealth fully under the cover of dark; fearful of being seen. Yes, he wants to see, but doesn’t want to be seen. Sounds like an Episcopalian to me.
Did you notice, it’s during the nighttime that this encounter takes place. The nighttime, in John’s Gospel, always symbolizes the spiritual darkness in which humanity lives apart from God, a theme introduced in the opening verses of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:4-5).
It’s at night when things go bump. It’s at night when confusion runs rampant. It’s at night, when we grasp for meaning, hope and security. This ruler of the Jews realized his need for spiritual light, readily confessing his belief that Jesus was “a teacher who has come from God.” Surely, he must have been challenged by Jesus’ declaration that “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
The good news is that God has entered the world and comes to us in the one who said, “I am the Light of the world.”
A decisive direction was presented to Nicodemus.
Yet the Apostle John does not describe what reaction Nicodemus had to the words of Jesus; the secretive visitor seems to have silently disappeared back into the night. Perhaps St. John did not immediately reveal Nicodemus’s choice because Nicodemus, in a certain way, is each of us. We have met Jesus, we have to sit at his feet, and we have heard his words.
Nicodemus, “has been shaken to the core by Jesus’ mysterious power; his wonderful teaching has struck home.”
Because eventually Nicodemus- - “Nick at Night”, cautiously, step forward a bit, coming to Jesus’ defense before his fellow Pharisees (Jn 7:50-52). But his appeal for fairness was met with suspicious anger. Perhaps he pondered again these words: “whoever lives the truth comes to the light…”
We meet Nicodemus again, after the Crucifixion. Pilate had given Joseph of Arimathea permission to remove and bury Christ’s body, and Nicodemus, “the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds” (Jn 19:39). He was finally in the light completely, revealing himself as a disciple of the Son of Man who had been lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
My friends, today is the Second Sunday in Lent and we are experiencing the first hours of daylight savings time. That means the days are lengthening and Spring is on the way…. that time of new birth and resurrection.
It’s time to come out the darkness of winter’s slumber and bask in the light radiant and warm light of God’s Son light.
It’s time to come into the light and embrace the gift of eternal life and salvation. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA - Fr. Joseph Alsay
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.