LENT 5B: This Talk of Death

Lectionary Passage:  John 12: 20-33:
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.   “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

You can tell it’s getting closer.  As we move through these last weeks of Lent, the time seems to increase to warp speed.  It is almost more than we can take.  I mean, wasn’t it just a few months ago that we were talking about stars and the birth of a child?  Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we were following Jesus around Galilee as he built his ministry, as he spread the first real notion of hope that we had ever seen?  And now the talk turns to touble and death.  What are we to do with that?  And what is this thing about wheat again?

First, the wheat must die so that it can grow and bear more fruit.  This is sort of confusing if you do not know what wheat is.  Wheat is what is called a caryopsis, meaning that the outer seed and the inner fruit are connected.  The seed essentially has to die so that the fruit can emerge.  If you were to dig around and uproot a stalk of wheat , there is no seed.  It is dead and gone.  The grain must, in essence, allow itself to be changed.  What this tells us in that in order for something new to happen, in order for a “new” or “renewed” creation to come about, we must allow ourselves to be changed.

So what Jesus is trying to tell us here is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.  So why, then, is death so hard for us to talk about, so hard for us to deal with in our life?  In fact, we do everything that we can to postpone it or avoid it altogether.  So maybe that’s why the cross bothers us so much if we really think about it.  Oh, we Christians can focus on the Resurrection and just let the cross somehow disappear into the background, covered in Easter lilies.  But then we have forgotten part of the story.  We have forgotten that God does not leave us to our own devices, does not leave us until we have “figured it out”, does not wait in the wings until we have covered it all up with Easter lilies.  God is there, in the suffering, in the heartache and despair.  And God in Christ, there on the cross, bloodied and writhing in pain, is there not in our place but for us and with us.

Whether you believe that God sent Jesus to die, or that human fear and preoccupation with the self put Jesus to death, or whether you think the whole thing was some sort of colossal misunderstanding…the point of the cross is that God took the most horrific, the most violent, the worst that the world and humanity could offer and recreated it into life.  And through it, everything—even sin, evil, and suffering is redefined in the image of God.  By absorbing himself into the worst of the world and refusing to back away from it, Jesus made sure that it was all put to death with him.  By dying unto himself, he created life that will never be defeated.  And in the same way, we, too, are baptized into Jesus’ death and then rise to new life. 

Yes, in these weeks we turn to death.  It is the way that we turn to life.  And life is the whole reason we started talking about stars and the birth of a baby anyway, right?  After all, without the cross, I think the manger is just a feed trough. All of life makes sense in light of the end.  Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Dom Helder Camera once said “why fear the dark?  How can we help but love it when it is the darkness that brings the stars to us?  What’s more:  who does not know that it is on the darkest nights that the stars acquire their greatest splendor?”  

So, on this twenty-seventh day of Lenten observance, think about what the cross means to you.  What does the cross call you to do?  Who does the cross call you to be?

Grace and Peace,


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