John has Jesus show Nicodemus what Moses learnt at Mount Sinai ‘school’ and what Paul bathed the Corinthians in.
Our participation in the Divine reveals to us that the Divine is a Three-fold dialogue or dance.
In the early morning time of encounters with the divine in the book of Exodus, Moses goes up Sinai (no mean feat – it is still rocky and hard!) and one step in humanity’s slow tutelage into God has him proclaim, “Lord, Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.” Entering into God’s presence often drives us to speak and this is where Moses’ genius lies. His life is a fathoming of God. He is led to the ‘divine’ and to divine (what a lovely, layered word) that God is the one who, despite humanity’s headstrong ways, can be defined as the faithful one. So he pleads with God: “let my Lord come with us, I beg.” And so, from that early morning of the divine encounter, humanity in the shape of the people of Israel becomes God’s ‘heritage and family’. The long journey, begun with creation,embraces our humanity – the wonderful journey begins for us all.
We jump forward now. By the time that Paul writes, in the light of Christ made flesh and risen, Paul can bathe himself and us in the warmth and exuberance of the fruits of the cross, that is Jesus now ascended into heaven. He, therefore, wishes the Corinthians happiness, unity, love, peace, holy kisses, greetings, grace sent, and grace and love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit given to all. We have formularised his delight into a cold phrase we too often mouth emptily. When Paul first set down his packed summary of what he knew God to be (“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”) they constituted a heart-stopping revelation. The God of Moses (tender, compassionate, faithful), has, through the Word made flesh in Christ, brought the great message of God down from Sinai and has begun to ‘be with you all’! Moses long ago begged God to adopt the people as his heritage. Now Paul sees the heritage fulfilled and beginning to embrace a new people, as tokens of all humanity. God defined and experienced as dialogue in action – the God of love and peace; Jesus the source of grace; the Holy Spirit as the source of fellowship. Dialogue was always Trinitarian – now humanity, by being taken up into that dialogue, can recognise how it has shaped all things and can then see the imprint of its presence everywhere.
John has Jesus make explicit in conversation with Nicodemus what Moses learnt in the early morning Sinai ‘school’ and what Paul bathed the Corinthians in – the simple truth so hard-won down the years: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that everyone (note!) who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” Humanity had grown used to an avenging God who condemns the world and has to be appeased. John knows Jesus speaks of the God of compassion and love, the God of Moses and Paul – the God who enters into the long dialogue for one reason only – ‘so that the world might be saved.’ The only condemnation comes not from God but from those who refuse to believe.
All are now made the ‘heritage’ of God – all humanity as a seamless part of the whole created world.
So, the great pageant moves from an early morning, fresh conversation between God and Moses, to a simple conversation between two men late at night – both scenes witness to the God, revealed to Paul as Trinity, whose only reason for existing is to break out of the Divine-dance into a loving, saving conversation with creation and at its self-conscious peak – humanity. Can we really believe that all humanity is invited to be the “heritage” of God? The Bible tells us the story of how we slowly learn that this heritage idea moves from one hardly-able-to-be-breathed as one of ‘adoption’, to one which is part of who we all are. We are, after the Incarnation, not only God’s adopted heritage, but his own flesh and blood. In the words of Paul: ‘Brothers and Sisters – we wish you happiness!’ Can we imagine Paul punching the air and leaping about with his face covered in smiles!