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Lent 2



Priests like me who regularly preside at a Prayer Book Communion have faced a significant change. The death of our dear Queen Elizabeth and the accession of Charles 111 to the throne has meant lots of scribbles in ancient BCPs to adjust the Prayer for the Sovereign and the Intercessions to meet the new reality. But I had encountered this problem before.

Some years ago, I took my first Book of Common Prayer service in my new parish. The verger had placed a giant red liturgical book on the Holy Table for me to use. I was somewhat nervous – first impressions are important, after all.

All was well until we reached the Prayer for the Queen. Reading ahead, I suddenly realised the book was saying King George, and I had to change the wording at short notice mentally. Not easy, but I stumbled through. Afterwards, I said to my new verger,

'This BCP book has the wrong monarch. How long have you been using this?'

To which the verger wryly replied.

'Sorry I put that out, Vicar. I'll put it away in a dark cupboard and bring it out again in fifty years when Prince George succeeds, and we can use it again. We don't throw anything out here, you know.'

Oh, I love the Church of England!

This week's Gospel is the story of Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus and  is rooted in succession. Both Jesus and Nicodemus knew that it was believed that to be fully Jewish, you had to be a Son of Father Abraham. That was a Jew's birth-right and their passport to God.

However, Nicodemus, a pharisee steeped in rabbinical teaching, has met with Jesus, experienced contradictory things and is a puzzled man. Firstly, Nicodemus saw that Jesus had the power to heal, which shows he is a man of God, but secondly, the healings were not confined to Jews. Gentiles were experiencing the power of God through Jesus too. So how can this be? So determined to find an answer but bothered by what his fellow Jews might think, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He is a curious but scared man. His reputation is a stake.

Jesus is aware of Nicodemus' dilemma and tells him  he must be born again from above. Nicodemus is stumped. How can this be? he says. You cannot go back into your mother's womb. And why would this be necessary anyway? Because Jews are already a son of Abraham by birth-right. Nothing else is required to be a child of God.

But Jesus says it is not the physical birth that matters; it is experiencing and living a new birth in the Spirit. Your succession into God's new kingdom is by allowing his holy Spirit to be within you and not by your ancestry. This is a radical teaching. Nicodemus must have done a lot of thinking, and his appearance at the end of John's Gospel suggests that he may have eventually understood what having a living faith means.

And all Christians need to encounter new birth by the Spirit. This can sound scary, but it is not. It is simply evidenced by how our lives are lived as a follower of Jesus.

My wife has, from childhood, always walked with Jesus and lived with him in the Spirit. She had no conversion experience. In contrast, I  experienced God's deep love for me in my early twenties and can remember when I gave my life to Jesus and was born again. Both of us are followers of Christ and born-again Christians.

It doesn't matter when you are born in the Spirit- just that it happens. Do you need to ask for God's Holy Spirit to enter your life?

Page last updated: Tuesday 28th February 2023 4:07 PM
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