What are two things we aren’t supposed to discuss in polite company? I was always told never talk about religion and politics. But there is one subject we avoid even more than the afore mentioned, and that is death. We tend not to talk about and deal with death, not because we have strong opinions, but because it makes us feel so uncomfortable. The death of a loved one is too real, too painful. The relationships and parts of our lives that have died are much too difficult for us to easily discuss.
For the most part, we just avoid the topic of death because it’s a downer in a culture that mostly wants to be happy, feel good, and avoid difficult realities. But most of all the thought of our own death is so very scary. How many of us would like to know exactly when our hour will come? I don’t suppose the Greeks that petitioned Philip to see Jesus were expecting to get a discourse on death, or death as they understood it. They just wanted to see Jesus, and who could blame them, his reputation had proceeded him. He had turned water into wine, return sight to the blind, raised Lazarus from the dead, fed the 5000, and cleared the Temple.
Don’t we all want to see that Jesus, – but why do we want to see Him?
There are probably as many reasons for wanting to see Jesus as there are individuals.
If you want to know your reason for wanting to see Jesus, examine your prayers to him.
We may pray for a good and prosperous life, for good grades, for the ideal job and we often pray for Jesus to get us out of a jam. We pray for health and healing, alleviation of our pain both physical and spiritual.
Please don’t get me wrong, most of these things and many more are good things to ask in our prayers to Jesus, but mostly we want to see Jesus on our terms. We don’t want to face the pain of loss and death in whatever form it comes. Sometimes we want something from Jesus more than we want Jesus himself. But if we pick and choose only what we like and want and skip over and abandon what we do not like, want, or comprehend there is a real danger that we could become consumers of God’s life rather than participants in His life.
Christianity isn’t a smorgasbord or a spectator sport, it is fully participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus lays out for the Greeks who want to see him.
“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.”
Like those Greeks, if we wish to really see Jesus, then we must look death in the face. As much as we refuse to acknowledge the certainty of death, to the extent we elude and deny death, we refuse to see Jesus.
Frankly looking at, acknowledging, and facing death is some of the most difficult work we ever do. It is, as Jesus describes, soul troubling. It shakes us to the core.
Just as an aside, while on this subject, I recommend if you haven’t already done so, pick up an End of Life Planning Packet, or get it from Grace’s website. It will certinly be a help for you, your family, and the church when your hour has come.
Today the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the Church points us toward Holy Week. In fact, in the past the Fifth Sunday in Lent was called Passion Sunday and began Passiontide, the two weeks ending in Holy Saturday. Now of course Passion Sunday is combined with Palm Sunday.
I bring this up to point out that the last four Sundays the Gospel has been talking about Jesus’s impending death.
In this way the Church teaches us not to avoid or deny death, for truly we must go through Good Friday to reach Easter. – There can be no resurrection without death.
Jesus describing what kind of death he would undergo said “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.”
The ruler of the world that is driven out is idolatry.
As NT Wright describes it: Sin, the consequence of idolatry, is what keeps humans in thrall to the nongods of the world, dealing with sin has a more profound effect than simply releasing humans to go to heaven. It releases humans from the grip of the idols, so they can worship the living God and be renewed according to his image. (1)
The idols, or systems, that keep our fallen world enslaved are things like worship of money, and power, - of ourselves.
The systems are driven out by Jesus being lifted up and drawing all people to Himself.
In this way Jesus ushers in the New Covenant as Jeremiah prophesized: 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. That law written on our hearts by being gathered to Jesus is that of love.
As our Savior taught us: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The law is written upon our hearts in our baptism and gives us strength to cast out of our lives the ruler of the world – those idols that enslave us.
We die to ourselves and those idols and are risen with Christ in the New Covenant of Love.
“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.”
Through our baptism, through our spiritual practices and prayers, through our love of neighbor, even our enemies, through our ministry and care of the very least of God’s children, through our participation in Holy Eucharist, through our gathering together as the faithful, we—like the seed— die and sprout and grow into the Body of Christ to bear much fruit.
It is in these practices that we take up our crosses and grow in the knowledge of the love of God. We affirm through these that we have been redeemed. And we share that knowledge and love with the rest of creation.
(1) Wright, N. T. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 1242-1244). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.