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.” Jesus 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. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
I used to think this was the strangest passage. I mean, what is that wheat thing? Well, see, wheat is a caryopsis, which essentially means 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 in the ground and uproot a stalk of wheat, you would not find the original seed. It is dead and gone. In essence, the grain must allow itself to be changed, allow itself to become something different. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us.
See, if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain, and hold onto what is essentially a rotting and lifeless seed wall—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all. Read it again: …”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. And whoever does this, God will honor.” This is the only time that the Gospel speaks of God honoring someone. And we begin to see the connection unfolding. Whoever follows Jesus through his death, not trying to find another way around, not trying to change the circumstances in which they find themselves, will become part of his everlasting life. Whoever follows Jesus will see Jesus. The journey to the Cross is not just Jesus’; it is ours.
So, we’re told to follow. But now we’re told to stay home. How exactly do we carry both of those things out during this odd season? Well, what if this time of what is almost forced confinement was our time of shedding? I mean, many of us have always complained that we were too busy, running too fast, with not a minute to spare, to spend time–REAL time–working on our own spiritual seeds. (Notice I didn’t say “needs”; I said “SEEDS”.) See, faith is not about gaining comfort and affirmation for where you are. It’s not about standing in one place and obeying some list of rules or believing set-in-stone understandings about God that were actually figured out centuries ago by a bunch of power-hungry wealthy men. (Yes, really) Faith is about growth; faith is about movement; faith is about listening; faith is about becoming someone different from what you have figured out you should be. Faith is about following a faint pathway that, yes, sometimes leads us straight through loneliness and pain and fear and conflict and numerous Jerusalems so that we can shed this facade of who we are and become who God calls us to be.
I know this is a hard time. After all, we are communal creatures and our faith has generally been lived out in that community. But what if this time taught us that community is not merely those who spend time together? Community is those who travel together, who are together when they stand beside each other and even when they are worlds or miles or houses apart. We’re not children of an exclusive community. (I think that would be a cult!). We are children of the Light that gathers us in and calls us to follow Jesus–together. And that can be done no matter where we are. Let this be your time of shedding.
“I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth…and the resurrection of the body…as it was meant to be, the fragmented self made new; so that at the end of time all Creation will be One. Well, maybe I don’t exactly believe it, but I know it, and knowing is what matters…The strange turning of what seemed to be a horrendous No to a glorious Yes is always the message of Easter.” (Madeleine L’Engle)
Today, pray for those who are experiencing losses–of jobs, of finances, of life as they know it, even of loved ones. Their life has changed forever. Pray that they might have the strength to move forward and find a new way.
Continue on the journey.