The Reverend John Allison, Celebrant
March 21, 2021 (Lent V)
Christ Church, Hudson
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
These words from the Greek converts who had travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover might be spoken by any of us. It’s not clear from the text why they want to see Jesus—if it’s to confirm for themselves that Jesus is who people say he is, or perhaps to profess their loyalty and willingness to follow. Whatever the case, I find myself, along with these Greeks saying this week, “I want to see Jesus. I want to speak with Him. It’s a matter of great urgency.”
I think many of us have felt that need—at least at some point in our lives. It may be that our hearts are troubled or that our bodies are wrecked and that we crave His loving gaze and healing touch. It may be that we just don’t understand what’s going on in this world—the violence and destruction and hatred that at times seem to win out over God’s love. I want to see Jesus. I must speak with Him right away.
Earlier this week I had a phone call from a former parishioner who has kept in touch since we left Maine. Her voicemail was brief but to the point: “Hello, I hope you’re well. I have an important theological question I hope you can help me with. It shouldn’t take long. Please call me back.” It’s the kind of message that makes my heart sink—and only partly because it may expose the gaps in my theological knowledge. More importantly, in spite of the playful tone of the message I sensed a troubled heart. She wanted to see Jesus but I was all she could muster on that day.
When I called back, indeed her heart was troubled, troubled by the very things that will trouble Jesus’s disciples as he moves ever closer to his passion and eventual Crucifixion. “I just don’t understand,” she said. “Why does He have to die. It’s just too horrible and I don’t understand why He has to die to save me.” I should say that my old friend is quite devout and has even had some seminary training and I think she could have easily run through the standard theological answers to her question but she didn’t want an answer that satisfied her head, her intellect. It was her heart that needed the answer. It was her heart that ached in seeing the same attitudes and the same violence, the same powers that put Jesus on the Cross still at play in our world today. My heart is troubled as well when I allow myself to ponder these things. I can only imagine the bewilderment of the Apostles as Jesus speaks to them about his death. I can only imagine the grief and sadness of those who were with Him, who travelled with Him, ate with Him, learned from Him. Even Jesus admits, “Now my soul is troubled.”
And yet, He knows, “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.” It’s with this knowledge that He knows God will be glorified, that the rulers of the earth will be driven out and that ALL people will be drawn into Christ. That’s the Easter hope that is the centerpiece of our faith. And yet, this deep into the Lenten season, that hope is not easy hold on to. Indeed, I’d even say that we must resist the temptation to rush ahead and revel in the promise of Resurrection lest we leave our time in the wilderness with Jesus too early.
Five weeks ago we began this season of Lent. You perhaps remember that Mother Kathleen and I both characterized it as a season of growth—of lengthening, if we reference the root of the word. The springtime of the Spirit. Though we often emphasize the season with penitence and purgation, those attitudes are cultivated so that we may be better prepared to fully embody the Easter joy that is promised to us. At various points, in service of cultivating this growth, I’ve asked you to reflect on what gets in the way for you of fully receiving God’s love. We did this with the Litany of Penitence, the Great Litany, the Ten Commandments even, and I know many of you have taken on your own particular Lenten disciplines. Today, Jesus says something that directs me to further self-reflection. Continuing with His metaphor of the single grain that dies and bears much fruit, He says, “those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” That’s a hard truth for me. I’m guessing that there are more than a few of us here who love life; if you’re anything like me you have even more trouble saying you hate your life in this world. It’s helpful to know that the Greek word that we translate here as “world” is kosmos, and it’s not the same as God’s creation; it’s better understood as the fallen world that is estranged from God and, you could say, is organized in opposition to God’s purposes. It started way back in the Book of Genesis when Adam and Eve left Eden. At its worst it’s a realm that revolves around domination, violence, and death as opposed to the life and love promised in Christ.
The question then, in these waning days of Lent, is what are the aspects of the “world” that hold us captive, that bind us, and take us down the path of death rather than life? I ask this collectively, as it pertains to society more so than individually, as that’s a big focus for John’s Gospel.
There are many answers, of course. It could be a system that perpetuates racism and inequality—racial inequality as well as social and economic inequality. It could be our consumer society that reinforces individual worth through getting and spending. It could be a system that glorifies redemptive violence and animosity to achieve its goals. The list could go on, but my question to you is, what is it of the “world” that you must die to? What is it that we need to turn from so that we may live into the life that God promises in Christ?
Jesus dies to this fallen world, this system that runs counter to God’s love, quite literally on the cross, and in that he opens the way for us all. That’s the new life, the resurrection, that is just over the horizon.
I know that in my heart. I know it in my heart more than in my head. I think that’s the new covenant to which Jeremiah points us: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” We belong to God, as God belongs to us, and in belonging, in accepting God’s love, our hearts are changed. My heart is troubled often, as was my old friend who called on me. What I know, what I learn in prayer, is that God’s answer is already there, written in our hearts.
Like those Greeks in the Gospel, I still want to see Jesus. What my heart teaches me is that He is already here with me—in the wilderness of Lent, in the devastation of the Cross, and in the bounty we share at this table, the Thanksgiving we offer. He is here with us. Are we ready to turn to His way and to participate in His love? That’s the question to which we must remain attentive, as it’s at the heart of our covenant. Amen.