4th Sunday of Lent - Reason to Rejoice

 
The fourth Sunday in Lent is traditionally known as “Laetare” (Rejoice) Sunday. In the midst of Lent, the liturgy reminds us of what we are about during this holy season. We rejoice because, as we hear in today's Gospel, we who look to Jesus have received healing for our broken spirits.  And we believe that if we live by the kind of love Jesus shows us from the cross, we too can be life-giving for a broken and suffering world. We are called to mirror what we see in Jesus' life, death and resurrection - and we hope that those who are just as broken can look to us to find help and healing.
 
In the Gospel of John "eternal life" isn't something that starts when we die. It begins here and now for us: it means having a meaningful life; a life rich in God's presence; a life that draws from a deep source within our very beings; a life of resolve and power to forgive others; a life of seeing by a light that is not of our own achievement, but has been given to us. Eternal life is all this and so much more - and it has been given to all of us who look on the Son of Man – the one "lifted up."
 
This week's text is not the whole story of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. It is the climax of what John wants to say and he assumes that we have been there listening to these two all along. Nicodemus, who is presented as a leading member of the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem (something like a professor of theology or a religious judge, or maybe the principal of a theological college),  has come to Jesus in the middle of the night to discuss things.
 
This is the first clue John gives us about Nicodemus. Of course, to assume that he is afraid of coming openly to see Jesus is just that, an assumption. We don't really know for sure, from the text. Later John is going to tell us that Nicodemus comes again to see Jesus. But by this time Jesus has been executed and the danger of being associated with Jesus has, for the most part, passed. So it is pretty fair to say that Nicodemus was a man who wanted to keep himself in the shadows when it came to Jesus... just out of harm's way and safe, not seen.
 
Nicodemus comes because he appears to be troubled by what Jesus has been saying and doing, because he wants to question him, get into a debate. Nicodemus wants to see some sign that Jesus really is from God and that the things he is saying and doing are true. Or, at least, this is what he says.
 
When Jesus responds to his questions and Nicodemus parries with more questions, Jesus appears to lose patience, as if he knows at this point that he is dealing with someone who doesn't really want to understand, but merely to argue. Nothing Jesus says seems to be getting through to Nicodemus; and it is at this point where this week’s Gospel passage  begins.
 
Jesus will give Nicodemus a sign - the sign of a man being raised up the way Moses raised up the serpent in the wilderness. Jesus is talking about a well-known sign of death for the people of Israel - a sign of death that became a source of life. You're going to see such a sign, Jesus tells him, and then you're going to have to decide whether you want to continue debating or start living. The people who live the life that Jesus gives do so in the light, where everything they do and are can be seen. The people who don't are the people who lurk within the shadows.
 
This is Jesus at his best: “telling it like it is.”  Those who hate the light always have something to hide. Those who love the light are not afraid of being seen for who and what they are... even when they are less than what they want to be.
 
But the story of Jesus and Nicodemus is not that of a private conversation about theology. It's about the radical protest that Christ was and is against the evil we do to one another in the name of religion. It's about the need to drag such evil out into the light, and expose it for what it is. It is not enough for us to be a Nicodemus - orthodox, well-connected and able to say all the right things. We have to be prepared to lay it on the line. We have to be prepared to step into the light for the love of God who sent his Son.
 
The message from Ephesians is comforting. We have all been guilty of actions that were negative. Our God is rich in mercy, it comes from an excess of love. Both with Christ and in Christ we have experienced resurrection. This is pure gift, not earned. As the handwork of God we were created to do justice. New Life has been given and is being given all the time for us since Christ has been "lifted up"- resurrected from the dead. Paul reminds us today that God, "...even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ." By grace we have been saved - we have been raised us with him.
 
We have much reason to Rejoice indeed.