Today’s Gospel reading from John 3 contains two foundational axioms of our Christian faith. The first is Jesus’ enigmatic claim to the Jewish sage Nicodemus that to be included in God’s realms, the Kingdom of the heavens, we must be born a second time. Traditionally the translation reads “born again,” a popular late 20th Christian evangelical catch phrase most Episcopalians find mildly distasteful. (Hence the Episcopalian national ad campaign proclaiming our welcome no matter the number of times you’ve been born!) The alternative translation used by the NRSV bibles from which we read in Sunday worship opts instead for “born from above.” I suppose the Greek allows either sense.
Despite all the deeply passionate denominational and theological debates about each translation, apprenticing with Jesus by definition implies voluntary death and voluntary re-birth into a radically new way of living. Most of us fail to grasp the essence of our own baptism, that our original selves die voluntarily at that moment. Our “natural” life is interrupted and re-routed completely and totally by God’s transcendent plan and purpose for each of us! That’s why our Christian forebears, many of which we blithely vote upon in Lent Madness, were able to go to their executions singing, praying and forgiving their executioners! Because they knew they had essentially already died once, as Paul says, to Christ! A second death meant little to them!
But in the economy of the Kingdom of the heavens, death is always, always partnered with new life. Resurrected life. Authentic life. Divinely inspired life. Life eternal. This axiom is what Jesus seems to be conveying to the astonished Jewish cleric who visited Jesus at night for an informal chat. As usual Jesus had so much more to say!
So, born again or born from above….take your pick! Both point to the profound mystery of a God-directed life which Jesus invites us to accept through apprenticing with him. Lent is the best time to consciously receive and cooperate with that apprenticeship and enter into that larger life God has prepared for us. And the end of the chapter tells us why…for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, to the end that all who believe in Him shall not perish (eternal death), but instead enjoy the most amazing everlasting life!! Thanks be to God!
1. Have you ever reflected upon your baptism, no matter your age when baptized, as a voluntary death to the life you thought you had?
2. Have you ever consciously and audibly consented, accepted and pledged to cooperate with God’s plan to be born again or born from above?
3. Would you today, or with someone you trust who is a Christian, verbally consent to God’s plan to birth you anew to a God-directed life?!!