Sermon 5th March

Readings; John 3 1-17  Romans 4 1-5, 13-17

The sermon began by playing- John Stainer- God so loved the world (1887, The Crucifixion)

In our gospel reading this morning, as much as in that choral passage by John Stainer, so often we focus on the words of John 3, 16, because they are so central to our faith, but sometimes we forget the context in which they were said and all the other things Jesus said at the same time. And who he said it to. Nicodemus, A Pharisee, one who was exploring, curious- unlike many of the others who tried to trip Jesus up, Nicodemus wanted to know more, and so he visited Jesus in the twilight hours, by darkness. I’m always fascinated by the characters at the edge of bible stories, Nicodemus,  turns up three times, all in John’s gospel , here in the night, then at Jesus’ trial and finally to embalm Jesus. John shows us  his journey in faith from curiosity, to one willing to spend substantial sums, and take some risk as a member of the group who had condemned Jesus, takes a risk to go and embalm his body after crucifixion. I can remember my father had the Volmarijn painting of Nicodemus visiting Christ at night, alongside also the similar candlelight study by Rembrandt of Jesus with Caiaphas- both members of the religious establishment, but what different outcomes So perhaps my Dad had a fascination with Nicodemus too. I’ve imagined, in fact I’m almost sure that Nicodemus would have been at the crucifixion too- and following on from this first secret visit and all the things Jesus said to him, and then the trial, I wonder what would have been going though his mind?


There, on the cross. The Word made flesh.

I’ve come to believe that. Ever since that night I went to him three years ago, wanting to know more of this man of God, this man of miracles and deep thinking, of words of wisdom and compassion. I’d tried to speak to others of the words of that secret night, his words of being born again, of him being the son of God, of coming  to show God’s love to the world, of the need to believe in him, trust him, turn to him, -and some believed, some believed. Like I was beginning to.

Like Joseph from Arimathea, over there in the crowd, like me, watching as hope slips away with each rasping breath.

We believed it, we really began to believe that he was not just a man, this man of God. That he could be...the Messiah, that he was God’s Word, God’s will for us all, made flesh, here walking amongst us, living, breathing, speaking God’s words to us.


And now.

Just flesh. He hardly has the strength for any words.

But wait- he’s trying to speak, let me closer, let me hear- I need to hear his words.

“It is finished”

And he’s gone.

Gone from that ragged and bloody flesh. Leaving those whispered words “It is finished”


And suddenly, there’s darkness, and the earth shaking, a storm out of nowhere, wind whipping sand into the air, sheets of lightning, crashing thunder as if the whole of creation is screaming at his death.


And then the stillness. No words. Not even a bird singing. Silence, save for the wind, blowing this way and that as if his very Spirit lingers, speaks those words again;

“It is finished”


Not said, even in that last harsh whisper, not said in defeat. But as if some great work, some task was finally complete.


And suddenly, as the clouds parted and a shaft of sunlight burst through to light his lifeless body against the dark skies, suddenly I felt my guilt evaporate, as if blown away by the wind, as if, his final words had somehow absolved me.


And those other words, the words he first said to me in the quiet of the night, suddenly, they mean so much more;

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”


Ever since then, humankind has pondered on those words, many, like Nicodemus have been curious, wanted to know more, discovered a faith for themselves- and still do. We might think, somewhat presumptuously, that we’re the last generations to do that, but we’re not, and we won’t be, God will touch hearts and souls for Millenia to come, until his kingdom comes.  And outside of our own circles of tradition and words, young people are discovering new faith and new words for themselves.


This song was from the number one album in the charts in December- the words are on the sheet given out this morning if you want to follow them, because sometimes the way younger people speak and sing may be less familiar to you too than the 1887 choral work I played at the beginning of my talk. Just listen, and perhaps let God reach you  through these words too…..

Stormzy- Holy Spirit