A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a meditation on the opening verses of the Gospel According to John. The lectio divina is a Christian meditative practice that is quite ancient. The process of meditation involves a focus on a portion of Scripture. The invitation to focus on the 4th Gospel was timely: I was beginning a sermon series on that book that next Sunday.
The preparation for the series had already taken me over the opening verses. And the verses are so familiar, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God," "the Word took flesh and tabernacled among us...". As I confessed in the opening sermon of that series, I am sometimes guilty of skimming over the familiar. But the invitation to meditate on those so familiar words, to slow down and truly let them soak into my mind, heart, and spirit, brought me to a moment where a clear thought floated to the surface.
John 1:3 - All things came into being through him. Without him not one thing came into being of all things that have come into being.
When we got to that verse, the lectio divina method asks you to let words or phrases come to the surface of your thoughts. And for me, hearing that verse, one word erupted onto my conscious thought: without.
This verse is complicated to read. It isn't smooth in its structure. It is repetitive in the use of "come into being". When the word "without" popped out in my meditation, it was attention grabbing. It drew me like iron filings to a magnet. It oriented my thoughts on what is so important about being without. Of course, the verse is referring to the role Jesus played, and plays, in creation. The author is drawing intentional bonds between Jesus and the creation story of Genesis. And in the context of the one God who said, "Let there be...", the author is saying, "Jesus was conveying the words into reality."
But to be without Jesus, the Word, is not just as simple as saying, "There would be nothing."
Jesus is life - without Jesus, there is no life.
Jesus is light - without Jesus, all would be darkness.
Jesus is enlightenment - without Jesus, all would be ignorance and futility.
Jesus is the beginning - without Jesus, creation never happens.
Jesus is the Word - without Jesus, understanding is not possible.
But honestly, those were not the things that exploded into my thoughts. What I heard in the depths of my contemplation on being without Jesus was the absence of glory, grace, and truth.
Without Jesus, the glory of God is still hidden away; allowed only to the chosen. In the Old Testament, the glory of God was revealed only to certain people, at certain times, in certain situations. "The Word was God..., and the Word took flesh and tabernacled among us." The glory of God descended on the tabernacle in the wilderness. That moment was the climax of the exodus led by Moses. It was the beginning of the fulfillment of the law among the people. That glory led the people by day and by night through the literal darkness and the spiritual darkness the people experienced.
When the temple was completed, the glory descended again. But that moment is the only time God's glory appears until Ezekiel departs. And the promised return is completed with the 4th Gospel's declaration that the Word descended and dwelt among humanity once again..
Without Jesus, the glory can depart again. Without Jesus, we have to complete a prescribed set of conditions for the glory to appear. And even then, there was a need to be a certain type of person to experience it in an intimate way. Without Jesus, there is no direct approach to God.
Without Jesus, the grace that defines God's relationship with humanity is hidden. Here is one of the great confusions about the Bible. God is a god of grace all the way through the Bible not just the New Testament. Grace winds a ribbon through the stories of the Genesis through the prophets and ties the story together with one common bond. God shows grace. When the person or people fail God moves the story forward. There are so many opportunities of failure described that it is easy to believe that God is one of wrath and judgment.
The story is not complete. We only read the low points. We read of the moments when God is faced with a choice of judgment or grace. We don't see all of the grace is measured out day after day. New Testament belief is that grace is measured out continuously because of Jesus. But the author of the 4th Gospel tells us "He was in the beginning with God."
How can God be only a god of judgment when Jesus in the fullness of grace was there all along?
The oneness of God the Father and God the Son would not allow all of the fullness of grace in Jesus to be ignored so completely by the Father. Without Jesus, we would continue to be lost by our blindness to the reality that God is grace.
Without Jesus, truth becomes vague, personalized, biased. If Jesus is the truth personified then we have a clear example, a benchmark, of what is true. His life becomes the boundary markers to live a full life. The law Moses brought to the people set the boundary markers first.
Do not mistake the law. It was not a set of limitations. It was the declaration of freedom, within certain boundaries. The law says that within the boundaries, the relationship with God is full of life and hope and promise. Outside of the boundaries, life is not guaranteed, hope is easily disappointed, and promises have no fulfillment.
Jesus offers life, hope, and promise. He is the fulfillment of the law, the truth. When he lives and moves, we know what life looks like. We know what is possible within the boundaries of relationship. The truth of his life becomes the definition of how his people, his followers, are to live. To define our life by our own boundaries is to deny truth. It is to deny Jesus.
Jesus is the switch. That was the image that came to mind in my meditation. A switch is a component that can interrupt current in a circuit or divert the current to another circuit. As someone who likes to play with electronics, switches can be a lot of fun. When there is a power source, the switch allows the user to manage where the power can go or how the power can be used.
To understand this image, allow me to define the parts:
The power source is God (Father, Son, Spirit working together in unity and glory) and is always being poured out.
Jesus as the switch allows that power to flow into the conduits to the devices that use that power.
The conduit is the Holy Spirit.
The devices are us.
The implication of this image is that:
First, being without Jesus is not the fault of Jesus. It is the choice to turn the switch off.
Second, being in contact with the switch doesn't mean that you complete contact with the power source. Resistance cuts down the amount of power that we can use to complete our purpose.
Third, our purpose, as devices attached to the power source through the switch, is to display the glory, grace, and truth that is Jesus.
This was the final image that came to mind. If Jesus came into the world to display the glory, grace, and truth of God the Father as God the Son, then we are to continue to display those same qualities. We are living the life Jesus defines when we are displaying the glory of God, the grace of God, and the truth of God.