Pathways through Lent

Farewell address?

by Lilibet Hagel

The Fifth Tuesday of Lent

Jeremiah 25:8-17     Psalms 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126 Romans 10:1-13     John 9:18-41

I often think that, if we just followed the advice in George Washington’s Farewell Address to the country, we might be in less trouble around the world today. Likewise, President Eisenhower’s parting words. Unfortunately, we are a little more cynical today and expect to get the real skinny only when people have one foot out the door, leaving us wishing they’d spoken up when it might have made a difference.

But we all say the previously unsaid when our days are numbered in time or place. At Sargent Schriver’s funeral, his son read a beautiful series of statements beginning “I am a man who…” and “I believe…” that his dad dictated to him one afternoon in 2002. A few weeks before my beloved mother-in-law passed away, she apologized for “making me cook the entire Thanksgiving dinner” my first year of marriage, 18 years earlier. And as my children leave for college, they laugh, a little, at my many text messages on subjects big and small, a modern farewell address.

For many reasons, the Pharisee Nicodemus has always struck me as an interesting person for Jesus to have spoken such beautiful words to towards the end of His life on earth. Following so closely His last public dialogue in the temple, when He blasts the Pharisees for being hypocritical show-offs, it’s no wonder the politically savvy Nicodemus comes at night. And Jesus, who never wasted a word, tells it to him fifty different ways: it’s not about this world, and you can’t skulk around in the dark forever. Nicodemus, as Luis León might say, didn’t have any answers, but he had the right questions. And Jesus rewards him with words that can be recited by anyone who ever went to church twice in his life: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Was Nicodemus someone Jesus knew could, with all his power and prestige, carry His message to the masses beyond the tattered Christian rebels? Was he a conflicted, lonely insider yearning for more than money and status? We last see Nicodemus when he and another hesitant member of the Jewish Council collect Jesus’ body from Pilate, anoint it with 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes, wrap and place him in a tomb. Perhaps Nicodemus was just doing the right thing, per Jewish custom, but there can hardly be a more piercingly intimate act of love and kindness and reverence.

Lent is a time to look at our questions and beliefs, as well as our actions and intentions, and perhaps consider what part of our own farewell address would stand out in God’s mind.

A message in streets of Jerusalem at night. (photo M. Angell)
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