|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Jesus wept. In English, that phrase is the shortest verse in the Bible, although - as ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς - it is not the shortest in the original languages. Nonetheless, what expressive power it has. It is certainly appropriate to recent events. What with the AUKUS deal, with its expensive, and nuclear, submarines; Nazis on the streets of Melbourne; continuing anti-trans violence; right wing Christian attacks on our own community and others; and the latest IPCC report, as if earlier ones were not enough; Jesus wept indeed. This passage has also been on my heart for some time. Not least it came to mind when I saw a recent transport ad. ‘End Extreme Poverty’ it said and it brought me up with a shock. For wasn’t that the cry of other past campaigns in which some of us have shared, such as the Jubilee campaigns to end the debt of poorer countries, and the Make Poverty History campaigns of the ‘noughties’ (2000s) with their vaunted Millennium Goals? At that time, some of us may remember, there was an ecumenical campaign, led by a former colleague of mine, called the Micah Challenge. Meanwhile, working with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission, I recall being involved in our own Make Indigenous Poverty History campaign, with our own Millennium Goals, several of which have been part of the Closing the Gap initiatives since. As part of that, with an Aboriginal Christian leader, I co-wrote a little reflection on the Gospel story we heard this morning. Yet are we that further forward on many First Nations issues too? Well may we say Jesus wept. Where though is the pathway to life?
If I were choosing the books which have most shaped and inspired my life, then very high on that list would be Janet Morley’s All Desires Known. Originally published in England in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and Women in Theology, it remains not only as an evocative expression of the Christian feminism which shaped so much of my early adult and ministerial life, which I also shared in with my wife Penny, and which, in many ways (together with other aspects of faith, and football) saved my life. Like Janet Morley’s earlier book Celebrating Women, co-edited with Hannah Ward, it also represents a landmark in the development of new life-giving language and imagery for God. For All Desires Known is a book of prayers for public and private worship, and it was formed out of the experience of an intentional community, the St Hilda Community, which specifically sought ‘to receive the broader vision of our Christian heritage and women’s spiritual offerings in language which excludes no person and no image of God’: a ‘non-sexist’ community, giving ‘full space and authority to women, without apology, secrecy, or shame.’ It is good to recall this today, in the wake of International Women’s Day this week, and as we hear the subversive, and in some ways shocking, Gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. For exploring life-giving language and imagery for God and prayer remains an invitation to us all. Like the woman at the well, we too seek living water, and the source which can quench our thirst: our profound, existential desire for life in all its fullness.
Today’s Gospel reading is a very rich passage, full of extraordinary metaphors, story and meaning. It includes, for example, that powerful central affirmation of Christian Faith that God so loved the world that they sent their Beloved One that all who believe may have eternal life. Note well the heart of this good news: that God loves the world so much that all who believe – not just the doctrinally righteous, or the ethically conservative, but all may have eternal life. For the God we celebrate today is the God of unlimited, inexhaustible, love. As our Gospel text says, Christ comes among us not for condemnation, but for love and salvation. Let us therefore affirm again that you, we, all of us, are loved. The Gospel, our Good News, invites us to claim this, and live it. All of which brings us, in this passage, to the person of Nicodemus, and to light, and darkness…