Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: Lent 2024

“Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him. Rather, it means to give one’s heart, oneself at its deepest level, to the post-Easter Jesus who is the living Lord, the side of God turned toward us, the face of God, the Lord who is also the Spirit. Believing in Jesus in the sense of giving one’s heart to Jesus is the movement from second-hand religion to first-hand religion, from having heard about Jesus with the hearing of the ear to being in relationship with the Spirit of Christ. For ultimately Jesus is not simply a figure of the past, but a figure of the present. Meeting that Jesus – the living Jesus who comes to us even now – will be like meeting Jesus again for the first time”.

The New Testament scholar and theologian Marcus Borg wrote these words in 1994 in his book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and this lent we will be reflecting on that idea of rediscovery, of finding Jesus in unexpected ways and places, of meeting Jesus again as if for the first time.  

For many of us, our understanding of who Jesus was and is for us today develops and changes throughout our lives. And for those of us who call ourselves Christian, there is often a moment to which we can point where we rediscover Jesus for ourselves. Beyond the colloquialisms and practiced depictions of Jesus which have been handed down to us, there is a moment in which Jesus becomes real and present to us. The incarnation of the Christ remains an ongoing event in which God reveals themself in human form in the person of Jesus in our own lives and experiences. Whether through the gospels, in community, or through our experience with the Holy Spirit in our lives, when we meet Jesus again as if for the first time, we encounter what Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker’s Movement called the “dynamite of the Church”. The risen and living Christ still calls us to live in the reality of the spirit who is upon us and who anoints us to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to captives, freedom for the oppressed, and the coming day of the Lord. 

However, we may be jumping ahead of ourselves here. Before we reach Easter Sunday and encounter the risen Christ, we have the journey of lent to walk together, with its reminders of our mortality, the life and death of Jesus, and the highs and lows of discipleship. This lent we will be sharing stories of members at SCM who have rediscovered Jesus in their own lives. As you read and hear these stories, we invite you to open yourself to the possibility of rediscovering Jesus again.

For me, my rediscovery of Jesus started after ending up in hospital for a week in 2018, from a mixture of exhaustion and not eating properly which led to stomach issues. One of the contributing factors to this was that at the time I was in a high control Church environment that demanded as much of my time and money as it could get. It was not irregular for me to arrive at Church at 6:30am and leave at 10:30pm on more than three days in a week. Although at the time I thought that giving this much time was part of showing my devotion to God, my time in hospital forced me to slow down and allowed me the space to question the image of Jesus that I had been taught in my teenage years. Add to this the fact that the people who had been teaching me about Jesus were more concerned with when I would return to serving than coming to visit me in hospital and I began to see that the Jesus I had been given was a capitalist, appeared unconcerned with my physical and emotional wellbeing, and was often shaped in to the image of the lead pastor rather than the Jesus of the gospels. 

In response I read the entire Bible in one month and noted down every passage I had difficulty with or questions about, it’s fair to say the list was long. Then one Sunday I was standing in Church and the only way I can describe what happened was that it felt like the floor fell out from underneath me. I suddenly thought, “I don’t know if I can believe this anymore”. It was at this moment that I knew I could no longer accept the Jesus I had been given and, if there was any chance of me remaining a Christian that I needed to discover him for myself. My rediscovery of Jesus came in the places I had been told I wouldn’t find him; through my LGBTQ+ friends; in the lives of atheist colleagues; through conversations with people of other faiths; through asking difficult questions; and refusing to settle for the platitudes about Jesus I had inherited.

In many ways this journey of rediscovery is part of Christian life, it is following in the steps of Jesus as he takes on death, like a seed buried in the soil, which eventually gives way to new life and resurrection. This path is difficult. Fr Richard Rohr describes it as “falling upward” and explains that “the ego hates losing, even to God”. When we try and confine Jesus in catch phrases, neatly packaged doctrines, and lacklustre spirituality we inevitably subsume him as an aspect of our own ego. As our old understandings and certainties about Jesus die, part of our ego and our self-dies with them, but it is in this moment that we can experience the curious joy of an empty tomb, of encountering Jesus as a gardener, a man on the road, or in an upper room. In many ways this process of rediscovery is not one we can manufacture or create for ourselves, it is an invitation of the Spirit that comes when we least expect, calling us gently and in a small voice to let go of our cardboard cut-out Jesus and our toy castle Kingdom of heaven, so that we can experience the liberating and joyous beauty of the Jesus who came to proclaim good news, and told us that God’s community of love is already among us. Our invitation to you this lent is to be open to rediscovering Jesus and to listen for that still small voice. Feel free to join us in the prayer found below as we start this journey of rediscovery together. 

Jesus who fed the hungry, be with us. 

Jesus who needed time on your own, be with us. 

Jesus who wined and dined with society’s marginalised, be with us. 

Jesus who cried openly at funerals, be with us. 

Jesus who calls for justice and peace, be with us. 

Jesus who experienced the lethal weight of an imperial system, be with us. 

Jesus who brings down the mighty, and lifts the lowly, be with us. 

Jesus who cared, healed, and listened to us in our pain, be with us. 

Jesus who was willing to take on flesh and bone for the sake of love, be with us. 

In all the ways we know you, and all the ways we are yet to know you, reveal yourself to us and grant us eyes to see you, ears to hear you, and hearts to rediscover you as if for the first time again this lent.