John 12: 36b-50

“[After he had spoken to the crowd,] Jesus left and went into seclusion.”

This little snippet is the second half of a verse from the previous pericope that we heard yesterday.  Yesterday, Jesus gave the crowd a hint about his coming crucifixion and said: “…the light will be with you only a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you… Believe in the light while you still have the light.  Only then will you become children of light.” Jesus says this to the crowd, then immediately after, goes into seclusion.

What a perfect image for this morning…the morning of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday.  For many of us, last Sunday was the feast of the Transfiguration, and so we heard the story of Jesus becoming radiant with the light of God’s glory. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when many of us make efforts to follow Jesus’ example in the desert…a dark time of sorts.   We give things up; some give up wine, some give up meat, some give up sweets.  Some of our churches stop using the word “Alleluia” during Lent.  On the last Sunday of Epiphany, Episcopalians often sing Hymn 122 that contains the line: “Alleluia though we cherish and would chant forever more alleluia in our singing, let us for a while give o’er, as our Savior in his fasting pleasures of the world forbore.”  Throughout Lent, many of us will take up the practice of praying the Stations of the Cross, which take us through the last hours of Jesus’ life and crucifixion leaving us at the tomb until Easter morning.  Most of these intentions, abstinences and meditations focus us on our temptations and our sins, which is not a bad perspective—it’s just not the only perspective. The question for me today is this: “How do we…how do I…walk into Lent in a way that is not entirely about ‘giving something up’ or about my own sinfulness?” Part of a response may be in Jesus’ public proclamation at the end of today’s reading: “Anyone who hears my words and doesn’t keep them faithfully won’t be condemned by me, since I’ve come not to condemn the world but to save it.” 

If imitating Jesus includes going into seclusion, perhaps we can invite people into a penitential walk that is less focused on abstinence alone or punishment at all, and focus ourselves instead on seeking the spectacular light of the Transfiguration that shines within each of us.  That shines in the heart of everyone to whom God said at their baptism, “You are my child with whom I am well pleased.” The Word that God spoke was with God and was God…the light of all people. That light shines in darkness that cannot overcome it.  That light that dwells within us, among us and around us.  “I have come as light,” Jesus says, “I have come as light into the world so that whoever believes in me need not remain in the dark anymore.”   

This is Jesus’ promise to meet us in the midst of our temptations, attachments, self-doubts and anxieties…Jesus’ promise to be our courage, and our hope and our strength there in the dark.  What would be different if we were to use today to prepare to enter Lent’s darkness seeking courage, to be receptive to new understanding, and to be open to God’s presence?  How would Lent be different if we were to enter Lent’s darkness tomorrow seeking guidance through things seen and unseen, “by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown, not knowing where we go, but only that God’s hand is leading us?[1]” What if we used this Lenten season to refresh and reinvigorate the indissoluble bond that God made between ourselves and God’s self?  We need not remain in the dark.

~ The Rev. John Forman


[1] Collect excerpt from the Book of Common Worship.

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