A reading from Ephesians: Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true... Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
It is intensely painful not to be able to gather for Mass in this space on Sundays. Now there are ways we can pray together on Zoom and Facebook and YouTube, and the Sunday Spiritual Communion devotions being sent out on the parish email list, and the phone calls a team of people are placing to check in with everyone. We need to stay connected, so these are all good. According to C-U Public Health, they’re even an essential service. But it is still intensely painful not to be able to gather for Mass in this space on Sundays.
Paul writes to the Ephesians today, Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light. This sacrifice of not meeting is painful, but I know that all of us understand that helping reduce the spread of COVID 19 is, for us right now, part of living as children of light, part of loving our neighbors.
And so we are discovering solitude. It has a long history. There have always been people in the Christian tradition whom God called to stay apart, to spend time in the desert. Jesus did it for 40 days and 40 nights, fasting in the wild, which is where we get this season of Lent. The early desert fathers and mothers did it, and hermits still do it today.
The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you… so that you will be a blessing.”
This command of God in Genesis 12, our first reading, marks the moment in long-ago history when God starts to create a family for himself, this great nation of children of Abraham. In our second reading from Romans, Paul, over 1000 years later, is still reflecting on that moment -- how did Abraham get access to God’s family? Was it having a special ethnic heritage, or did his behavior reach some threshold that entitled him to be selected? No. It was God’s choice, pure and simple, and Abraham’s yes to that choice, pure and simple.
In the Gospel today, Jesus expands on the same principle as he speaks with Nicodemus: The image Jesus uses is that God offers people who have been born in the ordinary way a second, different kind of birth, a birth into God’s kingdom (Jesus doesn’t employ the idea of family much). This kingdom does not depend on your heritage, where you come from, what religion your parents belong to, or whether you are a kind or respectable person. None of that has any effect. The only way to even perceive God’s Kingdom, Jesus says, much less be born into it, is by responding to God in trust. All three readings are getting at the same thing: God makes an offer of incorporation, and if we take God up on it, God will do what he promises.
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”
In some situations, it makes sense to cover up embarrassing parts of your life. The cocktail party conversation that begins with a casual “how are you” is probably not the moment to talk about the trouble you’re having making your mortgage payments. It’s the moment for “oh, fine, thanks.” When the guy comes to fix the water heater, there’s no point in telling him the anguish of dealing with your mother’s addiction to painkillers. Just show him the stairs to the basement and leave it be.
But there are other situations where covering up something painful or embarrassing is absolutely the wrong thing to do. It defeats the purpose, for example, if you go to the doctor and say “oh, fine, thanks” when in fact you’ve been having uncontrollable tremors in your left leg or steadily worsening blind spots in your right eye. Getting out of your doctor’s office having managed to deceive her or yourself about your problems is not the goal. The goal is to reveal your problems so that they can get healed.