It’s the elements of life. It’s not earth, wind, and fire because they surround us. (They were also a great rock band.)
It’s the spiritual elements like an illuminating light that influences and fills your life. Sadly, it can also be the slowly darkening absence of that light that comfortably hides our faults and failures. And, how about the element of uncovering the virtue of hope? Hope, to soften life’s lifelong daunting doubts. It certainly isn’t that certainty we foolishly look for. It is greater than certainty. It is hope. It’s the life element of almost leading a double life – like a secret spy – acting one way but believing in another. And not knowing when to choose the challenging better instead of settling for the easier lessor.
Halfway through Lent, the Church calls this “rejoice” Sunday. Our scripture readings barely talk about that beautiful word, rejoice. Instead, scripture gives us a picture of a man who is now my new hero. I knew his name but only thought of him as a gateway to something Jesus wanted us to hear centuries later. His behavior is like ours. His name? Nicodemus.
He’s everything we’re taught not to be, and he becomes everything we want to be. (Repeat that sentence?) He asks the Master late at night (darkness, anyone!?), “How can I get to heaven?” Jesus replies, “Be born again.” “Go back inside my mom and come out again?” asked the baffled Nicky. (I nicked name him that, shorthand.) “No, you crazy guy,” replies Jesus. Rebirth resides in your soul, the heart of God living within you. Renew, reborn, remember…all of it is a gift from God, grace-filled, not of our doing, which makes it a gift.
Nicky, oh Nicky. You belong to the ruling class of Jerusalem, full of traditions and rituals that have lost their meaning, their purpose. You ponder and doubt. You hear about this guy with a marvelous message of hope and meaning. You wonder what he’s all about. We think of temptation in regard to sin but the Good News of our faith is also and hopefully more tempting to embrace. Within Nicky is a longing for a purpose that is not being fulfilled. You can’t just quit thinking and praying about it and simply move on. You are not only a Pharisee but also a tried and try a member of the Sanhedrin. The governing class one step behind the Roman governor who washed his hands on the matter of this man.
You meet the Master again, and he tells you about believing. Believing in something greater than yourself . Standing beyond traditions and rituals but properly celebrated and enmeshed in ceremony and rituals. (Still, following me? I like this Nicky guy.)
Here’s three “who” for you? Who takes Jesus down from the cross? Who anoints him with oil and cloth so his mother can hold him just one more time? Who helps prepare the tomb for his three day stay? Yep, it’s the guy who found rebirth and renewal in his own way. Nicky’s considered a saint in some churches because he represents all of our doubts, fears, and risks. He wants to believe in a life more remarkable and more significant than his own. A greater life that’s united with his. It’s the bent knee (or at least half of it bent as we get older), it’s the eloquent bow, it’s the reverence we show in Church. Nicky showed us his bent knee, his solemn bow hearing the words of salvation from Jesus Christ, and he exhibited a reverence we hope to offer to others, especially outside these walls.
The Pharisees and Sanhedrin walled themselves inside themselves. All done to ensure their personal safety and position and their artificial authority. Insulating themselves into a god of their own making. (Small “g.”) They were blinded by their own personal light as we can be blinded by our hidden light; hidden away in the darkness of our lonely, self-serving selves.
Rejoice? You bet. Rebirth? Renewal? Believing as best we can? Compassion and caring? You bet. He’s my guy, my new guy to emulate.
My guy, Nicky. Nicodemus, or should I call him “Joe” or all of your names?