Part of the Sunday Retold series, based on the readings some churches follow week by week.
Please feel free to use any of my material if it helps you, saying where it is from.
Abraham and Nicodemus? It’s intriguing the way passages are put together. They shine a light on each other, helping you see them in a different way.
Both of these passages speak of a new kind of beginning in God, stepping out perhaps into a radically different kind of life. There is uncertainty, too, in the way ahead. Abraham will be shown the way to go, but he hasn’t been so far. The wind blows where it will, we don’t know where. These two stories together tell us something important about this walk, this life of faith. Both speak of setting aside our competencies and certainties and desire for control. Both put us in the place of learners, students, disciples even, having to be open and listening, because we have no blueprint, no map in our minds to impose on the outside.
To begin again as a little child, to set out from all you have known for – who knows? Life made new requires courage.
From The Bible Retold
“Get up! It’s time to go!” God said to Abraham. “You must leave your father’s household and go to the land I will show you, the land of Canaan. I want to bless you, and make your family into a great people. Through you my blessing will flow to everyone on the earth.”
So Abraham set off for this unknown land, with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot, and all their possessions and animals and servants. Their long convoy travelled slowly. Sometimes they followed great river valleys, where the grass grew green. Other times they travelled across wide plains, throwing up clouds of dust from the hot earth. They journeyed through many lands on their way to Canaan, and drew more people to them as they went . When they camped at night, it looked like a town of tents
The story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus by night is well known, but some of the ideas it contains have lost their anchorhold in the story, and rolled around gathering new associations as they go. When I came to rewrite it, and when I came to rewrite it again and again with the editor, some of these difficulties surfaced. It was one of the hardest parts of the gospel to attempt. It contains ideas which were difficult for Nicodemus to grasp, let alone us, but it seems that the pictures Jesus painted stayed with him, gradually unfolding their meaning, until we find him and Joseph anointing Jesus’ body on Good Friday as darkness gathered.
I remember getting up at night, unable to sleep, with no idea how to tell this story. But I lit a fire and a candle, and prayed, and imagined what it would be like to go to Jesus at night, as Nicodemus did.
From The Bible Retold
NICODEMUS THE PHARISEE
One night, Nicodemus slipped through the dark streets of Jerusalem to visit Jesus, who was staying the city. He came alone, not wanting to be seen. Nicodemus was an important man: a well-known Pharisee, and a leader of the Jewish people, and many of the Pharisees did not approve of Jesus.
Nicodemus came to the house where Jesus was staying, and went in. He stepped into a room lit by a small lamp which threw a warm circle of light into the shadows. And there was Jesus, sitting in the lamplight, ready to welcome him in. Nicodemus joined Jesus and began to speak the words that were running through his mind.
“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. The miracles you do prove that!”
As Nicodemus spoke Jesus looked into his face, searching his eyes by the warm light. He knew this man was wise, so when Jesus broke the silence, he spoke to Nicodemus of the deep truths of God’s ways.
Nicodemus listened as Jesus spoke of God’s Spirit: how it could not be seen, but could be felt, as the wind is felt as it blows. Jesus spoke too of a new type of birth: a birth of the Spirit, giving another chance to become like a child and to see God’s kingdom.
Then, Jesus spoke of how much God loved the world: enough to send his only son to die, so that everyone who believes in him could have a new life that would last for ever, a life full of light and truth.
Nicodemus listened, opening his mind to take in these extraordinary words. And as Nicodemus stepped out of the circle of lamplight, and walked home through the shadowy streets, he turned Jesus’ words over in his mind, beginning to understand.
Perhaps you would like to do a similar exercise – imagining yourself in Nicodemus’ place, seeking light in the darkness.
You could look at the two pictures, and use them to help you as you pray through your response to these two stories.
You might like to read the A Poem for the road – Returning in the light of these passages, and see how they connect for you.
As Abraham set off for an unknown land,
so we begin each day, and each journey,
knowing you are with us.
Bless us on our way,
and make us a blessing to those we meet.
Help me to find the right way to go,
even though the gate to it be narrow,
and the path difficult to walk.
Trust in God
Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you;
All things pass;
God never changes.
all it strives for.
He who has God
finds he lacks nothing,
God lone suffices.
Theresa of Avila, 1515-82
I am a pilgrim
on a journey
to the place
where God is found;
along that journey
God’s holy ground.
Where are you going today?
God Bless you on your way.