A nightingale’s egg. Nightingales are slightly larger than robins, with rather plain brown appearance. You would be lucky to see one. The visit the UK only in the summer, having wintered in Africa. Once they get here they like nothing better than hiding in the middle of an impenetrable bush or thicket. They nest in dense undergrowth and scrub that has thick foliage. They are not found in Scotland or Wales and England is right on the edge of their range.
Rather than watching them, most people are content to stand and listen to them because what makes them famous, of course, is their beautiful song. Their name comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means ‘night singer’. Roman society, too, prized them for their song. Pliny records that a bird with a good voice could sell for the price of a slave.
The nightingale’s reputation for being elusive and dark-loving makes it a suitable emblem for one of the more elusive and mysterious characters in the Jesus story: Nicodemus. John tells us that he was a member of the Jewish ruling council and that he came to talk with Jesus at night (John 3. 1-21). The implication is that he was attracted to the teaching of Jesus, but that he had too much lose if he was seen in his company.
Later, after Jesus’ death he comes to collect the body: ‘Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.’ (John 19.38-40)
What do you make of Nicodemus? Was he just a coward? Or do you sympathise with his all-too-familiar nervousness and lack of resolution? It might have been late, but maybe, after all, he did stand up and nail his colours to the mast.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’
(John 3. 16-17)
‘Father, forgive us for those times when we are embarrassed and hesitant about being your disciples. Amen.’