Jesus said, ‘Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.’ John 12: 26
God of Wheat and of Harvest, you call us to follow you; help us to bear fruit so that your love will flourish and all will honour your name. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen
Tena koutou katoa e te whanau o Te Wairua Tapu.
I know some of you would be disappointed that our karakia at Te Wairua Tapu was cancelled today but the weather in Sydney is just to dangerous for anyone to be travelling in, especially those living on the central coast and the greater western suburbs. So stay safe and take care of your whanau over the next few days.
Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent, Passion Sunday. It’s called Passion Sunday because the Church begins, on this day, to make the sufferings of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, it’s primary focus over the next two week period leading up to Easter.
So, in our gospel reading from John, Jesus speaks about his upcoming death. A subject most of us tend not to engage with. Yes, we acknowledge death when it happens but for the most part we don’t talk about death with any real depth or substance, and certainly no enthusiasm. We don’t deal with it. We deny it. We ignore it. We even avoid it because no one wants to die. We don’t really acknowledge, talk about, and deal with death. The death of our loved ones is too real and too painful for us. Facing our own death is far too scary. The relationships and parts of our lives that have died are too difficult. So, for the most part, we just avoid the topic of death. Besides it’s depressing in a culture that mostly wants us to be happy, feel good and avoid difficult realities.
I am sure the Greeks in today’s gospel didn’t go to see Jesus expecting to talk or hear about death. They just wanted to see him. And who can blame them? Jesus has a pretty good track record up to this point. He has cleansed the temple, turned water into wine, healed a little boy, fed 5000, given sight to the blind, and raised Lazarus from the dead. I don’t know why they wanted to see Jesus but I know their desire. I want to see Jesus too. And, I’m sure you do too. Seeing Jesus makes it all real. After all, seeing is believing. We all have our reasons for wanting to see Jesus. If you want to know your reasons for wanting to see Jesus look at what you pray for. It’s often a to do list for God. You probably know those kind of prayers. We want to see Jesus on our terms. We don’t want to face the pain of suffering loss and death in whatever form it comes. Sometimes we want something from Jesus more than we want Jesus himself.
There is a real danger that we will become consumers of God’s life rather than participants in God’s life. We pick and choose what we like and want, but we skip over and leave behind what we don’t like, want, or understand. Christianity, however, is neither a buffet nor a spectator sport. Christianity means participating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus sets before the Greeks who want to see him.
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.
If we want to see Jesus then we must look death in the face. To the extent where we refuse to acknowledge the reality of death, where we avoid and deny death, especially our own death, we refuse to see Jesus. Really looking at, acknowledging, and facing death is some of the most difficult work we will ever do. It’s, as Jesus describes, soul troubling. It shakes us to the core.
There’s always the temptation to skip over death and get to resurrection. So it’s no coincidence that this week and last week, the Church points us towards Holy Week and reminds us that death is the gateway to new life. Death comes first. However, death is not always physical. Sometimes it’s spiritual or emotional. We die every day. There are the deaths of relationships, marriages, hopes, dreams, careers, health and beliefs. Regardless of what it looks like, this is not the end. Resurrection is always hidden within death. But there can be no resurrection without a death.
When we fear death we are afraid to fully live. Every time we avoid and turn away from death we give it more power that’s stronger than God, more real than life and, therefore, the ultimate winner. The unspoken fear and avoidance of death underlies all our “what if” questions.” What if I fail, lose or fall down? What if I get hurt? What if I don’t get what I want? What if I lose that one I most need and love? Every “what if” question separates and isolates us from life, God, one another and ourselves. It keeps us from bearing fruit. We are just a single grain of wheat. We might survive but we aren’t really alive.
Jesus did not ask to be saved from death. He is unwilling to settle for survival when the fullness of God’s life is before him. He knows that in God’s world strength is found in weakness, victory looks like defeat, and life is born of death. This is what allowed him to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, a city that will condemn and kill him. That is what allows us to ride triumphantly through life. Triumph doesn’t mean that we get our way or that we avoid death. It means death is not a prison and the beginning not the end.
Regardless of who or what in our life has died, God in Christ has already cleared the way forward. We have a path to follow. That path is the death of Jesus. Jesus’ death, however, is of no benefit to us if we are not willing to submit to death, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ultimately, death, in whatever way it comes to us, means that we entrust all that we are and all that we have to God. We let ourselves be lifted up; lifted up in Christ’s crucifixion, lifted up in his resurrection and lifted up in his ascension into heaven. He is drawing all people to himself, so that where he is we too may also be.
Grains of wheat. That’s what we are. Through death, however, we can become the bread of life. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies….”.
Archdeacon Kaio Karipa