March heralds the coming of spring in the northern hemisphere. In the northern latitudes, long winter nights give way to the light of extended days and budding new life. In the traditional Christian calendar, today is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
For some Lent is a ‘Refresh’ season, a time for special reflection on the God whose nature, as The Book of Common Prayer puts it, ‘is always to have mercy’. Indeed, as the 16th century Reformers rediscovered five hundred years ago, God is not only merciful, it is his grace working within us that enables us to turn to Jesus Christ in heartfelt repentance and faith as our only Lord and Savior.
With the exception of today, over the Wednesdays during Lent, I plan to touch on the ‘I am…’ sayings of Jesus that we read in John’s Gospel.
While reading the last page of a book before you get to it is not something I generally encourage, let me make an exception. Before we start to look into John’s Gospel it is helpful to know the purpose of his writing. We find it in 20:31: These things are written so that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Keep this in mind
John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…
John 1:9-14: The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….
With his opening verses, the gospel writer John introduces us to ‘the Word’. He tells us who the Word is and from where he comes; we learn that he is truly God (1:1), eternal (1:2), the creator of all things and the source of our existence (1:3); he opens our eyes as well as opening the way to the spiritual dimension of life (1:4). He was God, and yet with God – by himself the Word is not the full complement of the Godhead.
With such a philosophical preamble, John’s words become alarmingly and shockingly tangible! In verse 14 he tells us that the Word of God, whose very nature and existence is eternally divine, has taken on human form. John is telling us that he and his fellow apostles saw what Moses had only glimpsed: namely, the glory of God personified. For the first time in history, God had revealed himself in person. The grace and truth of God had become incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.
But there is an ironic tragedy: left to ourselves we reject the Word and his light. We prefer to live in the darkness of self-obsession. We need God’s work of grace within us to open our eyes to the truth (1:5-13).
In his opening section (1:1-14), John introduces us to a counterintuitive idea: the religion of the Bible is not about our search for God, but God’s search for us. He is telling us of a ladder that God has let down from heaven to us (1:51). Christianity is not a religion of our discovery, but of God’s initiative. It is not about our attainment, but God in his mercy, reaching out to us. It is not about our research, but God’s revelation. It is a religion, not of works, but of God’s grace.
Ash Wednesday prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, so that we, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason