This meditation is for a Lenten devotional booklet for a Duke community. It was specifically to be related to the passage from John’s gospel and also to the 50th anniversary of matriculation of African-American students to Trinity College. We will link to the entire booklet once it is available.
Scripture for meditation: John 3:16-21
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
Employees, students, and faculty in solidarity for the dignity of work at Duke. In front of the Duke Administration Building, April 19, 1967. Courtesy of Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project, Duke University Labor Organizing, 1961-1968, Durham County Library. Photograph by Bill Boyarsky.
John 3:16 is tried and true. Apart from the 23rd Psalm, I would wager it is the best-known scrap of biblical knowledge in America. Its tried and true-ness may also tinge it as tired-out – as a too-readily recited word for a justice-starved world. But I cannot keep thirsting for justice without this truth about the Word who is Jesus Christ. Lent is a time for digging and sleuthing, for doing the archival work of the soul. This includes one’s own individual soul, and also the soul of a community, of a neighborhood, of a city, of a school. Lent is a time for uncovering the detailed mess of our history, and I recommend this discipline of memory right alongside the strange assurance that God means salvation for us. I do not know how else to suggest that someone fully reckon with the history of race at Duke without also signaling, like a simple sign on a back-country road: “For God so loved the world . . .” With this faith, I see this photograph as a call for repentance and encouragement. John 3:17-21 is a call to walk into the light, knowing that the bare, soul-searching work of memory is a practice of salvation, not condemnation. There is a profligate grace given through Jesus Christ, grace to uncover our sins.
Prayer: Lord, not all our deeds have been done in God. Some of our back stories are too painful or too wicked or too cowardly to recall. I would rather shut my eyes. Lord, can’t we just move forward? Help me to know you mean to save me? Help me to feel your forgiveness, so that I can confess?