Today’s Gospel reading (John 3:1-8) is about the nighttime visit to Jesus by Nicodemus. Nicodemus was one of the religious leaders of the Jews, and a Pharisee, which meant he was a faithful, ‘by the book’ sort of person. Unlike a lot of the other encounters Jesus had with Pharisees, this one seemed to be a friendly back and forth. Still, Nicodemus was confused by what appeared to him to be a new twist on the faith. Jesus demands that we be baptized and “born again.”
But how, Nicodemus wants to know, can someone be born again? You can’t undo what nature has done, starting over in the womb. Earthly life is lived in one direction and there are no do-overs. You are born, you grow up, you die. That’s the natural order of things. To Nicodemus, being told to be “born again,” makes no sense at all.
God’s Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way. As Jesus explained, the Holy Spirit is like the wind. You can hear it, you can feel it, but you can’t see it and you don’t know where it comes from. The Holy Spirit gives us a form of birth that never dies and that isn’t limited by the restraints of the Earth.
There’s a catch. To receive that life, we have to be born twice. Thanks to our God and our parents, the first birth brings our bodies into the world. We grow and learn to interact with this space and time. But then, we can choose to enter into our second life, our eternal life. With water from the baptismal font, we begin a new life. With the touch from a priest we receive the life of the Holy Spirit. It’s that life that “blows where it wills,” and we are a part of that life. Now and forever. We can turn our backs on it, if we choose; we can condemn ourselves to just the shorter, more painful life. Or we can live in the Holy Spirit on this earth for a while and in heaven forever.
Jesus made it very clear to Nicodemus that, while it may not make sense in earthly terms, baptism and rebirth is necessary. Twice Jesus begins his statement with, “Amen, amen…” which was the way speakers in his time added emphasis to their words (sort of the Biblical version of WRITING IN ALL CAPS AND USING LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!). If you look, you’ll see that he introduced the concept of the Body and Blood using similar language. No second-guessing allowed, this is the rule, period.
Why did God design things this way? I don’t know. But from the beginning we were designed to live dual lives. Adam and Eve were physical beings created by God to transcend the Earth and be part of Heaven. They broke that bond so God had to create a new path for us; a path that re-connects the physical and the spiritual. That path runs through the body of Jesus Christ. We can be what God designed and desired; creatures that are both physical and spiritual. But we have to follow the path that God laid out; we have to follow the way. Jesus is The Way.