Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 12th: Psalm 71:1-14; Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:20-36; and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Jesus offers and sacrifices everything that He has and everything that He is for us, but this does not mean that Jesus does it all for us. The cross is, as we have read in Hebrews, the uniquely perfect sacrifice, but this perfect act of selfless, unconditional love demands a response. I have heard it expressed as the cross being both redemption and regeneration. I find this helpful.
It was once explained to me through this simple analogy. A terrible and cold winter storm comes on quickly. A father and son are out on the waters fishing in a rowboat. As the weather deteriorates and it gets colder with the wind blowing and ice pelting, the father covers the son with a tarp to protect him from the elements. A second set of father and son are also out on the waters fishing, and also in a rowboat. This father has the son help him row to shore. When both boats come ashore, the son who was protected became gravely ill from the cold and suffered frostbite. The son who assisted his father in rowing to shore was protected from these maladies because he exerted himself by sharing the responsibilities of working to get to safety.
Redemption left standing by itself is the boy beneath the tarp. Redemption inspiring regeneration is the boy who helps to row. Regeneration is found in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. It is the idea of born anew. To witness the ineffable love of Jesus on the cross is supposed to generate a reaction. It begins with a deep sympathy for Jesus’ suffering, which hopefully draws us closer to the Saviour, but then it should proceed on to a personal transformation. This is regeneration. It is our reaction to Jesus’ sacrifice. The cross is not an isolated moment of death. The cross is the culmination of Jesus’ ministry and gospel; it is the culmination of Jesus’ life. When we are moved by the cross, we are in fact being moved by Jesus’ gospel. We are reborn to live as Jesus lived.
This combination is found in today’s Gospel. Jesus professes, “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’” But the theology of the cross does not end with what Jesus does. He continues, “‘Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.’” Jesus does all that is possible, and in that utter devotion to us Jesus trusts that we will be inspired to follow.
The life of Paul fulfills this duality of the cross. Paul concentrates his writings on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul is immersed in a passion for the crucified Saviour, and that passion translates into a life of devoted ministry. As he explains at the opening of his letter to the church at Corinth: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” This is regeneration.
In these last days of Lent, let us give ourselves the time to feel the enormity of Jesus’ brutal execution, but let us also be inspired by such a love to live renewed in the cross as the “power of God.”
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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