The Rev. Jennifer Adams – March 15, 2018 – Lent 5, Year B: 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.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement 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.
Well out of the forty days and forty nights of Lent, we have now walked almost thirty of them. We’re well over half way through the season and from here, (which is the last Sunday before Palm Sunday) and on, it’s a tough but a profoundly beautiful go.
The readings are getting more obviously difficult and challenging. There is very explicit talk of the cross, and glorification, and death; there is mention of the judgment of this world and a metaphor about a grain of wheat falling into the earth to live again. We also just heard Jesus say to his disciples that “Now is the time.”
We know where this story is headed. Next week there will be a trial, shouts of “Crucify him!” and the most mysterious and powerful image of the Messiah we have. There will be a cross that speaks of suffering and glory, grief and hope, death and life. And in this, we’re invited to be with Christ and with one another, to wonder, to mourn, to reflect, to pray.
And so what I want us to hear in the gospel today is really something that could be a prayer, it’s the request that came from the Greeks, a simple sentence offered at the very beginning of the gospel passage which went like this: “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.’” Sir we wish to see Jesus. That was it. “So Phillip went and told Andrew and together they went and told Jesus.” And that’s when Jesus began talking about the grain of wheat, losing one’s life, and following him. And he said that the time for all of this was “now.”
And so first I want us to acknowledge as we have through various other passages recently that the time is now, it is always now, when “seeing Jesus” is our request, our hope, our prayer and that prayer is being answered. Whether we are three days into Lent or twenty-eight days into Lent or in another liturgical season entirely, the time to see Jesus is always now. Part of the good news is that this request will always be answered.
Sometimes that happens when you’re alone uttering this prayer and God hears you and you hear God – and something is given you. Sometimes, someone else helps it along; you tell a Peter and that Peter tells an Andrew and before you know it, Jesus comes. Somehow, Jesus comes. Sometimes you are gathered in worship and the simple act of communally seeking, leads us together to find and to be found in Christ. If you wish to see Jesus you will see Jesus. No matter who you are. Hear that today.
The catch is that it just might surprise us how that happens. In fact I think it often surprises us how that happens. Their prayerful request was answered in today’s gospel, but we also heard that perhaps unknowingly, it was one of the bravest requests they could have made.
Because as we heard Jesus speak of grains of wheat, the judgement of this world, and the glory of God – to really “see” means going to some very hard and hurting places with our eyes open, our hearts too. Really “seeing Jesus” means following him all the way through this story to all of the places he has been and is now. “Those who serve me must follow me,” he told them. “Where I am, there you will be too,” he said in a beautiful and challenging promise to all.
From here on out, Jesus will process into Jerusalem; touch untouchables, turn tables, wash feet, wipe tears, and break bread; he will be challenged to speak and be a world-transforming, holy means of compassionate truth; he will die and he will rise. And so to see him now means to be in those kinds of places and moments, to follow him to where he already is, to seek him with our eyes open and our hearts too. Knowing that with Christ, as Body of Christ, we will be stretched, we will be broken, and we will rise again. “Where I am, there you will be also.”
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “be careful of what you pray for.” And while there is something to that, I think what we’re being called to today and as we move toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week is to be mindful of what we’re praying for. Not careful but mindful – there’s a a difference.
We can’t possibly know how this prayer will be answered, but we can absolutely trust that it will be. Hear that. “We wish to see Jesus” is a prayer that will change us. Because it will open us to where Jesus is. And we need to be opened to where Jesus is. And to how Jesus is in this world today. The prayer will take us places we might never have imagined we’d go – to processions, to tables, to trials, to foot washings, to truth-tellings, to bread and Body breakings. This prayer will lead us in and through the holy and transformative process of resurrection.
The invitation today is to pray this prayer, with our hearts and eyes open and to begin to receive and to be the fullness of this gospel story, to embrace and be embraced by the broad and deep reach that is the good news of Christ. This is the challenge and grace of these holy weeks that are our “now” – to “see Jesus” in the cross and resurrection and the many, many ways in which Christ is present in our lives, in one another, and in our world each and every day.
“We wish to see Jesus.” This is one of the bravest prayers we can pray, but we’ll do it together, trusting that in this prayer there will be redemption and there will be grace.