Lenten blog | April 5, 2022
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 5th: Judges 9:7-15; Psalm 20; and 1 John 2:18-28. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today’s New Testament passage offers a cautionary tale about judgment. Raymond E. Brown’s The Community of the Beloved Disciple was an eye-opener for me. Brown celebrated the message of Christian love found in the Johannine Epistles, but he acknowledged also that it was a laudable love limited, however, to the members of the community alone. The Johannine community was charism based. It trusted in the inspiration of the Spirit to guide and lead every single member of the community. Thus, we read passages such as: “… and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it … you do not need anyone to teach you.”
The Spirit was pervasive and also unwieldly. To disagree with the community was tantamount to disparaging the Spirit even though the disagreement would be born of the same Spirit-inspired knowledge and truth – and thus the unwieldly nature of this model. We read today: “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.” To abandon the community warranted the judgment that they were “antichrists” all along.
Brown presents a persuasive argument that the Johannine community even considered other Christians, particularly Christians in Pauline churches, as being part of these “many antichrists.” The Johannine community was suffering diminishment. Historically, the Johannine communities have disappeared, and Christian churches today are the offspring of the Pauline church model. Members were leaving the fold for other Christian communities, possibly more stable Christian communities. And as is often the case, when religious bodies, especially fervent ones, face loses they claim that their situation is due to supernatural evil. They situate their position within the cosmic battle between good and evil.
They encourage their remaining adherents to stick with their threatened community so that “we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.” In other words, Jesus’ triumphal end-time coming is approaching quickly, therefore, remain steadfast for a short while longer in order to receive the promised eternal glory. The obvious difficulty with this teaching is that it is 2022. The expected imminent return of Jesus did not happen.
Brown draws out the edifying message of Christian love from the Johannine communities, but is equally dedicated to the sacred text when he warns against faith’s lure to a rush to judgment. The Christian ethic within the community is uplifting and when its passages are read they share what is sublime in our faith, but there is the unspoken – and for the biblical author the unrecognized – warning against imagining that every difference of opinion or separate sacred path chosen is the work of antichrists attacking the one true community.
As we look to Jesus on the cross in these last two weeks of Lent, I’d ask us to consider the lack of judgment. Last week we spoke about “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Let us contrast the consistently lived example of Christ even to the extent of His death on the cross with that of the rush to judgment in the Johannine Epistles that spoke so unnecessarily dramatically about the coming of the Saviour in judgment. There are Old Testament and New Testament prophesies about the return of an angry God, but the lived example that we have in the person of Jesus reveals something quite different. I wonder if the prophesies are human contrivances that fulfill our need for judgment rather than the harder work of our trying to understand the contrarian message and example of Christ, especially Christ crucified.
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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