Lenten blog | March 18, 2023
A time of seasonal change, a time for Lenten change
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 March 18th: 1 Samuel 15:32-34; Psalm 23; and John 1:1-9. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
This is the last weekend of Winter, but I think most of us are in Spring-mode already. The technical definition of the seasons can’t keep up with the emotional ones. It’s not just now. By the time summer arrives on June 21st, most everyone is way past Spring anyway. Sharon and I visited the Bulb Show at Smith College on Thursday. We were talking to an old acquaintance who works there. She told us that the turn-out this year has been more than they have ever seen. People are Winter-weary it seems, and if you can’t run off to someplace warmer outside, then someplace warmer inside like the Bulb Show is a nice alternative.
Back on Thursday, I talked about the challenge to find the nugget of revelation and inspiration in the story of Saul’s genocide and Samuel’s religious fanaticism. The lectionary won’t let the story go. I don’t know why they ask us to spend so much time on it. It’s time to move on already. I get enough of religious extremism in the news. I don’t need three days of it from the Bible too. I’m offended by images melding the cross with guns now and I’m offended by today’s reading of “Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.” It’s time to move on. I’m fanaticism-weary.
And since we’re talking of moving on, this is exactly what John is doing today in the introduction to his Gospel. John stands alone. The other three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels. They share a great deal of common material and even format, but John takes his own course. In the iconography of the Gospels, John is the eagle because he soars high in his depiction of Jesus. It is said that the Johannine Jesus has one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.
Mark is unconcerned about the birth narrative of Jesus. Matthew and Luke share Bethlehem stories about Jesus’ birth. John’s Gospel reaches back into eternity blasting past Christmas with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The Johannine Jesus shares existence with God in the unfathomable time before time, and it is this Jesus as the Word who is the instrument of universal creation: “All things came into being through him …”
The Word, I think, is a melding of the Greek philosophical term Logos and the creative, divine expression of Ruah in Genesis One. John’s Gospel begins with the same phrase that opens the Bible: “In the beginning …” In that Genesis account, God’s Word, Ruah, is spoken and immediately what is spoken takes form. And the first spoken creation of the Word in Genesis is the light that pushes back darkness, and in John’s Prologue the Word, Logos, is the “light [that] shines in the darkness.”
This is one of the highest Christological statements in all the New Testament. John is expressing fresh ideas about the nature of Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God. John is like the change of seasons. He’s moving ahead of the Synoptics. He’s transitioning and he’s taking us along with him, but we’re also not there yet technically. In the history of the church, the idea of the Trinity is not established until late in the fourth century. It took Christians this long to take the seeds planted in the New Testament, seeds such as John’s Prologue, and transition to the full-blown theology of Jesus as the incarnate, eternal, equal Son of God.
Similar to the transition feeling that we’re still in Winter but thinking like it’s Spring, John’s Prologue is feeling like Trinity, but we’re not there yet. We as third millennium Christians can hear full blown Trinity in John’s words about The Word, but if we look back at the passage there is the tentativeness of “with God / was God / with God.” The “was God” is essential to later Trinitarian thought, but there is this lingering idea that God is still something separate, and thus the “with God” phrases.
Just as we need to move beyond the savagery of an ancient mindset embodied in the actions of Saul and Samuel, we have moved beyond the seeking and wonder of the New Testament struggles to express the nature of Jesus. Jesus is an unfolding mystery that we try our best to express as Trinity. John reached back to his Jewish roots for the creative Ruah/Word and to the contemporary philosophy of his day’s Logos/Word to try and move forward in his expression of Jesus. Transition is played out right in the biblical text itself. We should not be afraid of transition and change. After all, we’re trying to express God.
Lent is a time to explore new ways of being with Jesus. It is a time to look down side streets. It’s a time to wonder what’s over that hill. It really is a Lenten journey. I invite you to journey with us tomorrow at our worship Service, to share the journey with other spiritual travelers.
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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