13 February 2013

ashes born again

Is this a day of life, or of death?  The paradoxical narrative comes forward once again, for today assures us each that the emptiness of life can only be filled by embracing our own death.  That is how our story has been written, and it does not blush at its own absurdity.  It is an assertive truth that is so serious it refuses to shrink back from those who cannot understand it.

On a fateful night, during a rather secretive meeting, the Pharisaic aristocrat was struck by such a suggestion.  This itinerant teacher and miracle-worker had just told him that the way he would find this kingdom of god would not come through a restructuring of his political methodology, but only through a complete restart of his own life.  Nicodemus had just been told that he must be born again.  When he responded to this absurdity with his own preposterous suggestion, Can I reenter my mother's womb?, he found that he was the only one laughing.  It wasn't stupidity which Nicodemus had heard, but rather a higher truth than he was ready to understand.

Death is required, Nicodemus.  You were born into the Jewish heritage; born into the Jewish faith; born into the aristocracy.  Now it is time that you are born into the kingdom of God, rather than trying to produce it from your own experience.  A choice of direction must be made, for it will not be possible to realize God's kingdom through the short-sighted vision of political gain.  Someone who is searching for the missing meaning will not find fulfillment in the 'final piece' to a puzzle.  It requires a new way of life - a death, followed by a birth.

Ashes are symbolic of this reality.  By the time Nicodemus stands at the cross, he is at a critical moment in his own life.  He must make a decision, to stand alongside the very Sanhedrin which orchestrated this cruel punishment on a fellow Israelite, or to embark on a new journey where the old is left behind.  He walks with Joseph of Arimathea to bury the body, and those steps were undoubtedly difficult at first, but as Nicodemus moved forward - even in grief - he must have realized that a new life was beginning, for he was now publicly associated with Jesus.  Perhaps now he sees the cross, not as the vivid reminder of worldly might, but as the powerful answer of God's almighty love.  Maybe this time it was God mocking the power of Rome, instead of Rome ridiculing a would-be king.

And maybe now Nicodemus finally understands what it means to let go of what once was, and move forward into what will be.  For, he now knows what it means to be truly born again.

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