The Rev. Peter A. Lane
One of the most famous lines in the Bible occurs a bit later in this chapter in John’s Gospel – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” We’ve all seen that verse on placards at sporting events, billboards, street graffiti – it’s ubiquitous. But the verse that really captures my imagination is the first one in this chapter – “he came to Jesus by night.”
We can imagine that the reason that this leader of the Jews came to Jesus under the cover of darkness was to keep his visit a secret – he didn’t want to stir up any trouble for himself with his colleagues in the Sanhedrin. But in John’s Gospel, everything carries at least two levels of meaning – the literal and the symbolic. So what is John saying by including this important detail about Nicodemus’ visit to see Jesus?
The first thing that comes to mind is that Nicodemus was experiencing great uncertainty and anxiety about this Jesus character. Was he a threat to Jewish religious authority? Was he going to upset the Romans and cause all sorts of trouble for the Jews? Was he speaking the truth, and if so, what did that mean for everything Nicodemus believed and held to so tightly?
We’ve all experienced that kind of uncertainty, haven’t we, as we lay awake in the middle of the night? And it can be rooted in many different aspects of our lives. Our physical and emotional health, and that of our family and loved ones can quickly become a source of worry. Financial concerns, difficulties in relationships, discord in our communities and the wider world. And so often when the morning comes we look back on our tossing and turning and wonder why we were so vexed. So which is it – a waste of time and energy to be concerned about these matters, or are we right to be anxious and worried, and if so, where do we turn to find some clarity and peace about these deep matters that grip us in the dark of the night?
The darkness can also represent Nicodemus’ inability to see and understand the things Jesus is revealing to him and all who take the time to listen. Nicodemus was a learned man, deeply steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and tradition. People went to him for clarity and understanding, and yet he is shown to be so simple and literal in his comprehension of what Jesus is revealing. As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, we see and understand only in part, as if looking through dark glass.
We’ll explore more of what the night and darkness mean in this secretive encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus during this weekend’s worship, and I hope it will provide you with a fruitful way to wrestle during this holy season of Lent with some of your own struggles to seek out Jesus during times of worry and uncertainty, and to understand in a new and deeper way what it is he is revealing to you about your life of faith and hope and love as God’s beloved.
See you in church.