Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary: The 3rd Sunday of Easter (Day 3)

1 John 3:1-7

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Because the world didn’t recognize him, it doesn’t recognize us.
2 Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure. 4 Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Every person who remains in relationship to him does not sin. Any person who sins has not seen him or known him.
7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous.


The lectionary offers a variety of texts during the Easter season that invite us to reflect on the impact of Jesus’ resurrection on our world and our lives in it. Today’s reading from 1 John frames that impact by calling and affirming us as God’s “children.”

As God’s children we live as new people in a world that still refuses God’s gracious offer of adoption in Jesus. The world does not recognize us; nor are we yet all that we will be. In hope that we will indeed resemble Jesus when he appears, we “purify” ourselves toward that end. This means we no longer “practice” or remain in the habit of sinning or “rebelling” against God. This is not a call to perfectionism (thought it does not rule that out!) but a call to set the direction of one’s life toward Jesus. Failure to do this becomes over time evidence that one does not truly belong to Jesus. V.7 warns us against being “deceived” at this point. Only the person who lives like Jesus, who bears the characteristics or the qualities of the family into which he or she have been adopted, belong to that family.

All this language is “religious” or churchy - too familiar to some, perhaps, too alien to others. Is there a way we can translate this into a dialect that resonates more readily to those for whom this language seems strange, quaint, or antiquated and also awakens those for whom it is too familiar to what these words might mean?

I offer one example of such a “translation” today. It is the song “Roll Away Your Stone” by the British “Green Grass” group Mumford and Sons. This song has key Christian imagery: the rolled away stone (resurrection), journey (discipleship), and “this grace thing” chief among them. It also uses the image of a “hole in the soul” that reminds us of Augustine’s heart that is restless until it rests in God and Pascal’s famous “God-shaped hole in the human heart.”

The song follows the same pattern as that of 1 John 3. It begins in affirmation (“Roll away your stone”) to live in the resurrection reality that is now ours. We are not yet fully what we shall be. Mumford and Sons capture this reality in the song’s recognition that we have filled that “hole in the soul” with garbage and debris alien to and destructive of our character.


Yet, in a world yet filled with darkness, and aware of our native inability to
live as God desires (“all my bridges have been burned”), we nevertheless stride into the future confident that that “this grace thing” and the companions God’s provides for the journey will effect the needed change of heart.

Even when the “stars” (fate, perhaps even the devil himself) blaze with all their lures and attractions, seeking to derail us on this journey, we are not “deceived.” We rebuff all such overtures and thus “stake out” our territory as a “newly impassioned soul”!

This song (lyrics are printed below to read along with the video), I believe, offers a way into the resurrection reality opened up for us to live in by Jesus. Its different words and images from those of 1 John serve as a helpful commentary on the latter. Read 1 John 3 again, then the lyrics printed below, and finally listen to song on the video. Pray and ponder in this light, then, the impact of Jesus’ resurrection!

Roll Away Your Stone

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I'm afraid of what I will discover inside

Cause you told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with every stop

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see

Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I won't give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine


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