Archives for posts with tag: gospel of John

Week four of Lent. It’s a slog.

In college I started thinking about the Lenten season in relationship to my annual desire to hibernate. It just makes sense that once a year we dial back on our activities, refocus our thoughts and efforts inward and upward, and generally chill out for a while. Yet Lent is more than that. It’s abstaining from something that would be a normal part of our every day, like comfort foods, or taking on something that we feel should be there more often, like prayer. After a while that part of our brain that courageously says, ‘may God be glorified in this small offering,’ wears down, grows quiet, and the thoughts switch to, ‘why did I choose this practice? …what am I learning, really?’ The daily frenetic strains of life continue to sweep us through calendar weeks, only to arrive at a harried landing long enough to wonder what in the world we’re doing. It isn’t Easter yet, I still can’t have that chocolate, or go on Facebook to check just one thing, or enjoy a happy hour cocktail. We have arrived at that point in winter when it seems better to give up Lent than to continue giving up our sacrifice.

After all, what are we doing this for, anyway? Why walk the road of self-denial when we’re nowhere near Jerusalem? What do I expect to glean from a season of scarcity?

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John recounts a heartbreaking exchange between Jesus and Philip (14:8-9). Jesus has just responded to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” So Philip pipes in, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” That phrase, “we will be satisfied” haunts me. It mimics the time when the Israelites were in the desert longing for the rations of slavery. It’s an image of the recurring moment when the people of God are utterly blind to what’s among them/us. When we’re so close to Immanuel we could touch him, and even that is not sufficient.

Hans Frei, in The Identity of Jesus Christ, writes this on the contradiction of Jesus’ presence and distance as we see it played out from Gethsemane to Easter Sunday:

For whomever it becomes the truth it does so not by imaginative obliteration of time but by hammering out a shape of life patterned after its own shape. That does not mean that we repeat the original events literally in our lives, and certainly not completely, but it means that our lives reflect the story as in a glass darkly. …Reenactment can no more make him present than the passage of time can bear him away.

Jesus’ refrain found in John, believe in God, believe also in me, is essential for Lent. Immanuel, whom we celebrated in Advent, is still with us in Lent. The way to belief is through both the zenith and nadir of winter. We believe that he was born to Mary, that he lived and walked as any human on the earth, that he faced death and was crucified, dead and buried. We believe in his presence not just for that time in Roman occupied Judea, but also for today.

As we walk through Lent, be encouraged that this is far more than a morbid preoccupation with denial and sacrifice. Now is when we ask ourselves questions of belief: has Jesus been with us all this time? How do I know? What signs do I see of his nearness? Would he ask of me what he asked of Philip? Does my life murkily reflect the great parabolic story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?

Peace be with you.

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I love those moments when there’s a glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth. For me they tend to consist of odd juxtapositions or a proximity of unliklihood. I’ve seen them during a community conversation on homelessness when a former boss of mine sat in a discussion group with a young man who had transitioned off the street. Another time when I got to pray with a young woman in recovery, and there was a great sense of purpose and renewal for her as we prayed. Yet another glimpse was when I noticed a young man from the street, who’s also a regular at church, smiling down the row of chairs towards a woman holding and playing with a friend’s baby. I associate these moments with the Kingdom because they’re moments when social or earthly differences just don’t matter. There’s a kind of beauty that animates these moments, and I find myself simply in awe of ‘Now.’

The “Now / Not Yet” Kingdom of God is a notion that has surfaced (again) relatively recently. I know of it through the Vineyard church; others know of it through the writings of George Ladd, and the Blumhardts before him; or through popularized catch phrases that pepper sermons and conference brochures. John Wimber of the Vineyard appropriated the Already/Not yet Kingdom motif into his ministry, finding a strong theological underpinning from Ladd’s work. There are still plenty of folks who find it virtually inconceivable to think that what God did through Jesus of Nazareth–heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons–could in any way be true for today. After all, God has given us rational minds for medicine and technology to heal and keep death at bay (and let’s not mention demons, they don’t exist). The crazy thing about the Kingdom is that it is both “at hand” (as witnessed to by healings), and “coming” (as anticipated by Isaiah and John’s Revelation). It’s God’s kingdom, so there is nothing we can do to bring it about, yet we must live as though the kingdom were very present.

Too often the Already/Not yet Kingdom is interpreted in terms of persevering until Jesus comes again. The message that life is difficult, but we can rejoice because King Jesus will come again, has everything to do with the Not yet Kingdom, and very little to do with the Already, the Now, the Living God. The interpretation of Kingdom theology takes on a rather meagre vocabulary–now becomes the time to persevere, to pick up the scraps of joy lying amidst the wreckage of our lives, to plead to God for safety and some security. Yet what kind of faith does that leave us with?

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Are we brave enough to take him at his words? Can we trust this three(in)one God that we cannot even comprehend? And what does abundant life even look like in the midst of grief, loss, tragedies and death? How can we know if we don’t fully embrace the Now of the Kingdom alongside the Not yet?