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The Sunday readings in Lent have been showing us the high points of salvation history—God’s covenant with creation in the time of Noah; His promises to Abraham; the law He gave to Israel at Sinai. In today’s First Reading, we hear of the destruction of the kingdom established by God’s final Old Testament covenant—the covenant with David. His chosen people abandoned the law He gave them. For their sins, the temple was destroyed, and they were exiled in Babylon. We hear their sorrow and repentance in the exile lament we hear in today’s Psalm.

Several verses before today’s Gospel begins, we learn that Nicodemus comes to see Jesus at night. Coming on his own time, after a full day’s work, demonstrates that Nicodemus is motivated by a genuine desire to learn from him. The Nicodemus we meet in today’s Gospel is eager student visiting a teacher to check for understanding.

We don’t always see God’s presence clearly labelled in the world around us. But, if we begin to pay attention, every once in a while, we will notice God’s presence nonetheless—in transforming hearts, changing minds, and bending wills.

That is precisely what Jesus is inviting Nicodemus to do: start paying attention to the presence of God in his life. That’s an especially important lesson for Nicodemus to learn because Jesus won’t always be with him. At least, not in the same sense that he is on this night.

Jesus hints at this reality in the first verse of the portion of the passage we hear this morning. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

As 21st-century Christians, we hear Jesus’ words in full knowledge of his death and resurrection. We can easily draw a parallel between the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness, and Jesus being lifted up on the cross.

Nicodemus, on the other hand, doesn’t know yet what’s going to happen to Jesus. But when he does find out, if he remembers this conversation with Jesus, he will learn for the first time the answer to his question.

“How can somebody be born from above?” Because Jesus died and rose again.

Jesus himself is the answer to Nicodemus’ important question. That’s what Jesus is trying to teach him. But Nicodemus will not—and cannot—completely understand this until he develops a relationship with Jesus. For that matter, neither can we.

Developing a relationship with Jesus doesn’t happen overnight. There is no simple how-to guide for the process, no matter what anyone says. It requires taking time to pay attention to Jesus, the Risen Christ, and his presence in our lives.

That just so happens to be a central task of the Lenten season.

 During Lent, Christians tend to focus on the self-denial part of that, but the rest is important, too. If we use the remaining days of Lent to lean into a period of self-examination, prayer, and scriptural meditation, then we will be walking with Nicodemus into a deeper relationship with our risen and living Lord.

Try, for instance, reading through the rest of John’s gospel account. You will get a sense of Nicodemus’s own journey with Jesus, and it just might inform your own.

In chapter seven, when others are plotting to arrest Jesus, Nicodemus speaks in his defence, even after several have turned against him. And in chapter 19, Nicodemus even joins Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus’ body for burial after it’s taken down from the cross.

When he helped lay Jesus in the tomb that day, Nicodemus didn’t know what would happen in just two days’ time. We do. That’s all the more reason for us to be on the lookout for Jesus’ presence in our lives. If we do that, then we can—right alongside Nicodemus—experience the joy of that beautiful Sunday morning all over again, even as if for the very first time.



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