Dr. Karoline Lewis is a professor of preaching at Luther Seminary and has gracious produced a Lenten series on the I Am sayings of Jesus. I pass the following on to you for your edification. This is the series that will be the basis for our Lenten worship. May this be a blessing to you this season of Lent.
Grace and peace, Pastor Bruce
The Lenten Series this year focuses on the “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John for the sake of intentional reflection on and proclamation of God becoming flesh.
Let me say that again -- God becoming flesh. The cross is many things; but first, it is the death of God. Let that sink in.
The “I AM” statements are more than just a novelty of the Fourth Gospel -- they reveal, in all fullness (John 1:16), the identity of Jesus. “Obviously,” you might be thinking.
But Lent is the season to remember one very important thing about what it means to be a Christian: that when Jesus goes to the cross, there goes God.
Jesus as this one-and-only God, this unique God (John 1:18) is the distinctive claim of Christianity. Yet in today’s world what’s said and believed about Jesus has the tendency to divide Jesus’ humanity from Jesus’ divinity. Our Christologies seem comfortable with choosing one or the other, depending on whom we need Jesus to be in a certain time or place -- or, for a certain purpose.
The Gospel of John reminds us -- which, during Lent, is an especially important thing to remember -- that to believe in Jesus is to hold the fullness of Jesus’ humanity and Jesus’ divinity together.
“What difference does this make?,” you might be asking. Well, when we collapse Jesus’ humanity into Jesus’ divinity, it gets harder to imagine the purpose and pathos of the cross. After all, if that was God nailed to a tree, to what extent was that true suffering? And when we minimize Jesus’ divinity, it becomes easy to reduce Jesus to an above-average teacher, miracle worker, and advocate for the poor.
The challenge of Lent is to negotiate these simultaneous truths -- and how to admit our own truth regarding which Jesus we prefer. Otherwise, all too often, Jesus ends up being trotted out and used to justify moral claims as if God were not a part of the picture.
A word about grammar may be useful here. The “I AM” statements in John are of two varieties: the absolute “I AM” statements in which there is no qualifier, and the “I AM” statements with a predicate nominative.1 And yet the point of both is to hold both together. Each time Jesus says, “I AM,” the entirety of the “I AM” statements stands behind this revelation. And every time Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life, I AM the light of the world,” the fullness of the absolute “I AM” statements stands behind this claim. When we keep this in mind, we begin to see that if we try to separate God and the Word made flesh, we have likely missed the point of Christianity altogether.
Consider the following quotation, circulating on Pinterest boards and throughout social media: “I AM. Two of the most powerful words; for what you put after them shapes your reality.”
This Lenten series helps us imagine that what Jesus puts after “I AM” in the Gospel of John shapes our reality.
Week 1: I AM the Bread of Life (Feb. 21, 2018)
Text: John 6:35-40
When Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life,” it is easy to limit this promise to our practices surrounding the Lord’s Supper. Certainly, this communal act is central to our Christian identity. But Jesus reminds us that the offer
of himself is not just for us on a Sunday morning, but also so that we might provide life for others. Jesus as the bread of life is for the sake of eternal life for all, life that is both the assurance of life after death, but also life while living, here and now. When we believe that Jesus is the bread of life, we actively look for the people who need to be fed. Those whom the world drives away. Whom the world allows to go hungry. For whom abundant life (John 10:10) is almost impossible to comprehend. Jesus as the bread of life shapes the reality we can help create for the world God loves so much.