My heart is racing. I asked that this Lent be different. Well, I think I’m getting it. And it’s not just missing coffee.
“My heart is swollen with fear and wonder; it can tell me nothing except I’m standing on holy ground.” [Nicodemus, The Chosen]
In today’s Gospel reading [Year B; John 3:14-21], as in Episode 7 of The Chosen, Jesus reveals to Nicodemus He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Nicodemus tries to comprehend what Jesus is telling him.
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him. [John 3:14-17]
More than detaching from my self-diagnosed coffee addiction, I wanted to fall in love with the Lord this Lenten season. To know and experience this Love that came to save the world. Not as a cliché. Not as head knowledge. But to melt. To fall to my knees. To hear my name. To tear up in joy without understanding why. To swell with Love.
It seemed elusive. I couldn’t figure why it wasn’t happening the way I thought it would. I thought I was doing all the right things to get there, to fall in love with Jesus. Consecrations, prayer, spiritual direction, Bible studies, theology school, mass, adoration. Just like Nicodemus prayed and read and studied and taught, as a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, a man of God, who was supposed to know everything there was to know about God. All good and gracious gifts from the Lord. Sometimes I caught glimpses. A lot of times I got a small taste. Then comes a street preacher from Nazareth who heals a possessed woman and restores the walking ability of a paralytic. Not what Nicodemus was expecting. Not what I was expecting.
“Get used to different.”[Jesus says to Simon after calling Matthew, the tax collector]
I had heard of The Chosen by a handful of people. Honestly, I dismissed it originally. It was TV. Not the sacred Scriptures or the Eucharist. But at the beginning of this Lent, I decided I should try something different.
“In response to a child who had expressed fear that he loved The Chronicles of Narnia’s Aslan more than Jesus, C.S. Lewis wrote: “The things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.” The same is true with the depiction of Jesus in the app-streamed series The Chosen. What I have found most beautiful about this series is that it gives the viewer the means to fall in love with Jesus who lived, moved, spoke, laughed, loved, and was truly human. It’s valuable because of the Aslan principle: it allows us to run our fingers through the hair of that strange and powerful lion that is both irresistible goodness and ultimate power, who is in love with us but is a character we simultaneously and properly fear.
We know that Christ himself provides intimacy when and where he deems necessary, especially in response to our commitment to him and love of him (we see this in the lives of the saints), but to be afforded the gift of hearing his words spoken with inflection, see his eyes glimmer with affection, and see his strong hand wrap around the head of a man like Nicodemus, as Nicodemus buried his face in Christ’s neck and cried the blessed tears of true epiphany, stirs one’s heart—and soul—in new and beautiful ways.” [Rozann Lee, “THE CHOSEN”: HOW A FICTIONALIZED NICODEMUS INFORMED AND CHALLENGED MY FAITH, wordonfire.org]
I wasn’t expecting it, but this TV series gave me the means to fall in love with Jesus. He was so human. And He was so God. In Episode 1, He called Mary Magdalene by her name and brings light to the thick darkness smothering her heart. Recited to her the verse from Isaiah her own deceased father used to tell her when she was a little girl and was scared.
Now this is what the LORD says— He who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine! [Isaiah 43:1]
He pulls her close to Himself and holds her head with his right hand. Be not afraid, Mary. She is redeemed. Born again. In Episode 7, Jesus also holds Nicodemus. Pulls Him close as his heart swells and eyes stream with tears. Holds his head with his right hand. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.
The last episode of the season, Episode 8, features the meeting with the woman at the well. It was also the Gospel reading [Year B, John 4:5-42] a week ago today. Jesus asks the woman, who is called “a woman of Samaria,” for a drink of water. She recognizes He is a Jew, and it wasn’t custom for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan, let alone a man to a woman. In the episode, her frustration and sorrow is apparent. She is wounded deeply. Jesus is just beginning to prick at her pain. He tells her He has living water and to go and call her husband and come back. She turns her face away from him.
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
She turns back to him, eyebrows furrowed, trying to understand what is happening. How this strange Jewish man who speaks of living water could know this about her. She forces a small laugh and rationalizes.
I see you’re a prophet.
She thinks he is there to preach at her and condemn her. As with Nicodemus, He begins telling her of heavenly things, and He can tell she is struggling to believe. He tells her He is the Messiah, but she picks up her water buckets and begins to walk away. Not explicit in Scripture but presented in the episode, Jesus stands up and begins naming each of her husbands. Describing exactly what happened in each of the relationships. Not attacking her but begging, pleading she believe in Him. Pain begins pulsing through her body from the woundedness and brokenness of her heart. Her arms give way to the weight of this living water.
He continues. Tears well. She closes her eyes. But there is nowhere to hide.
“Why are you doing this?”
Jesus explains He has not revealed Himself to the public. She is the first. It would be good if she believed Him.
“You picked the wrong person.”
“I came to Samaria just to meet you…”
“I am rejected by others.”
“I know, but not by the Messiah.”
Now, she turns her face fully to Him. Takes a breath as if breathing for the first time.
“And You know these things because You are the Christ?”
He gently nods.
In a beautiful mixture of tears and redemption and laughter, she puts her hands on her head, exclaiming…
“I’m going to tell everyone!”
“I was counting on it.” His eyes glimmering as He looks at her.
The disciples are returning to the well after getting food from the village as she turns, running down the path, laughing.
“This man told me everything I’ve done! O He must be the Christ!” “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did!”
This entire past week, the sacrament of Reconciliation stalked me. I read this passage in the Gospel last Sunday but didn’t hear anything new. I was familiar. It was an amazing story, but Jesus was talking to the woman of Samaria, not me.
Or so I thought. The Responsorial Psalm from the same day…
If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. [Psalm 95:8]
Sankt Augustine’s, the church I attend in Copenhagen, always offers the sacrament of Reconciliation before the English mass Sunday nights. I had been just a couple weeks ago, and the rule of thumb for Catholics is minimum once a year but recommended once every three months, I believe. Honestly, I felt the promptings to go, but I didn’t really know why or what I was going to say until I started the forty-five-minute drive to the city.
Something stirred in my heart. By the suggestion of my spiritual director this past week, I prayed in the form of a dialogue with the young Jesus. We walked together on the way back to Nazareth from Jerusalem. I asked Him questions and practiced listening for His voice. Being quiet and attentive.
In the car, I remembered mom had asked me to pray for her before going to Confession (Reconciliation) to talk to the priest about some old wounds. She was nervous about it. Hmm old wounds. Another thing popped into my mind. Something I recently heard about peace and the lack of it. About being a peace maker. Knowing what you are spreading to other people and why. Is it peace? Judgement? Anger? Or the opposite of peace…pride?
Then I heard Him.
Stop it. Why are You doing this? I am rejected because of these things.
Every cell in my body told me to hide. Not to listen. Lies from the pit of hell whispered I would be just fine if I didn’t speak of these things.
But it was not an accident.
“I came to Copenhagen just to meet you.”
There was nowhere to hide. When I arrived at the church, I dragged my feet into the chapel with the priest. Expecting to be crushed.
“I do not reject you, Lauren.”
The priest, someone I had grown familiar with from mass and talking with him previously, gently and lovingly, spoke of the Gospel reading today. Of the story with Nicodemus. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the Israelite people wandering in the desert after God freed them from slavery in Egypt. That God offered them redemption from their complaints and grumbling hearts about being better off in Egypt. In slavery. If only they would look at the serpent on the pole, they would be healed.
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but might have eternal life.
As the woman of Samaria, I turned my face fully to Him. I looked at my sins in His crucified body lifted up on the cross. All the things He knows about me. All the things I buried and rejected.
“I do not reject you, Lauren.”
I walked out of the chapel. Letting these words wash over me. Feeling redemption blossom in my heart. The mass began, and the priest read the Gospel, which concludes with these words…
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
Whoever lives the truth comes to the light…
The truth is I have done wicked things. The truth is I was created to love and be loved, but I have fallen utterly short. I have rejected the love I was created for. The truth is I have chosen lesser loves and darkness many times. Desired the comforts of slavery over the freedom of obedience. I have listened to lies many times. I have hidden in fear and shame.
He knows these things. And He comes to meet me. To save me.
“Come see about a Man who told me everything I ever did!”
After the Gospel reading and short homily, the priest begins the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Catholic Church believes the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Christ (if you’re curious, google the Catechism of the Church and look up some Eucharistic miracles!). To be honest, I have struggled with this belief. The mystery danced around me. I really wanted to believe. I listened to the explanations and the Eucharistic miracles, but my heart just couldn’t seem to get there. I must be the wrong person.
The priest blesses the bread and wine each separately, as Jesus does with His disciples before His crucifixion. After the blessings, he lifts them up together. As the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
And I saw Him.
It was not just the cup and wafer the priest was holding up. He met my gaze.
I melted. If I wasn’t already on my knees, I would have fallen before the Man who told me everything I ever did. Who calls me by name and doesn’t reject me. I saw the glimmer in His eyes and tears formed in my own. My heart swelled with Love.
Everything I imagined falling in love would be like, this was infinitely different and infinitely better.
This strange Jewish Man comes to Copenhagen just to meet me. He knows everything I have ever done because He is the Messiah. He doesn’t reject me but brings light to the darkness of my heart. Healing to my wounds because they keep me from Him. Keep me from looking at Him. In the light of truth, He gently turns my face towards Him. And lovingly meets my gaze.
I am Lauren of Samaria, and I think I can get used to different.
I love you dad,