The end of the John year

It is with good sadness that I end this liturgical church year today. For the last year I have led the congregation in riskily departing from the wiser tradition of the Revised Common Lectionary, and following our own lectionary through the Gospel of John. Since I had worked on memorizing John on my 2008 sabbatical, I told most of the gospel scriptures this past year for memory. Of course, each week I would have to brush up on my memory, sermon by sermon, and it got harder as the year progressed. You might say that this year of preaching through John has been learning it by heart for the second time.

Was it worth it? I’ve grown to value telling the scripture rather than having the printed page in between me and congregation. It seemed to verify that the word had become flesh, or at least temporarily had become enfleshed in my brain cells. I can only hope that the word has indeed become a deeper part of my being, but how does one measure something like that? I had also been praying for the congregation: since they saw their pastor learning scripture by heart, both by taking off on a sabbatical to do it (walking from D.C. to Pittsburgh) and, once back home, by telling pieces of John’s gospel for memory Sunday after Sunday, I was hoping they would grow more hungry for the word to sink into their lives too. That was my hope, but, again, how does one measure if it bore fruit?

And so a 3 year effort (the preparation, the long walk and memorizing, the year of preaching through John) comes to an end. It has been full and rich and difficult and tearful, all in one. I am invigorated and worn out. Some in the pews may breathe a sigh of relief to be returning to the more practical, story-telling Luke. Some weeks I, too, will be relieved for the return to routine.

On the other hand, the poet of John’s gospel, that unknown beloved disciple, has changed me through his gift of writing. The gospel’s broad concepts–like community or Jesus’ identity or Jesus’ constant challenge of the unbelieving status quo–have shifted my perspective about what it means to follow Jesus.

But much more frequently, it has been snippets of the gospel’s phrases that have worked their way into my living and praying, tunneling like the brown burrs embedded in my dog’s fur. These turns of phrases have little to do with big theological concepts, but they have everything to do with pulling me here and there from distractions to notice the life of Jesus’ presence right here in the run-of-the-mill moment. I drive down the road and a phrase rises around the bend; I walk the dogs, and a word sounds with the wind; I wake up in the night, and a sentence is lodged under my pillow; I speak on the phone, and a word slips out of my mouth.

What am I talking about? Nothing coherent maybe, and for that I apologize. So let me simply name some of those snippets that have burrowed in and stuck:

Come and see. She came to tomb and saw.
Know me. Grace upon grace. In him was life. You in me and I in you.
I am coming to you. In the beginning. Tented with us.
You will be thirsty again.
Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.
The sheep know his voice. Not leave you orphaned.
Peace. My peace. Peace be with you.
Vine. Bread. Believe in me. What is truth?
Ask anything in my name. Twelve baskets full. Feed my sheep.
Without me you can do nothing.
Light of all people. Not walk in darkness.
How shall we know the way? I am way. Rise, let us be on our way.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Lamb of God.
Do you love me? For God so loved.
Unless a seed fall into the earth. He must increase. I must decrease.
Washed their feet. No one has greater love.
Accept my word. The word was God.
The serpent in the wilderness. You will live. Crucify. My joy.
He breathed on them. Your joy.
We have seen for ourselves.

These snippets are new companions. Behind them stands One whom I have come to know as Companion.

Was it worth it? Yes. Yes. Yes.


  1. So, why isn’t there a “like” button for the blog? God bless you–and your congregation–for taking this journey.

  2. Yes, definitely there is gratitude for such a risk-taking (or is it patient?)congregation.

  3. Even patience is no small thing.