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.”
As we come through to the middle of Passion Week and look forward to Easter, we remembered on Sunday the story of Jesus arrival into Jerusalem – greeted practically as a king by those who recognised his importance. However, within the span of only a few days, Jesus found himself betrayed by one of his closest followers, arrested, flogged and beaten. Incarcerated by the Roman governor of Jerusalem, Pilate who could not ascertain the guilt the Jewish elders put upon him still succumbed to the very same crowd who’d welcomed Jesus as a king – and had Jesus put to death by crucifixion.
It’s a story that most people know – having faith in Christ or not – but how many people stop to think about the emotions of those involved? Reading as part of a bible plan that sees me jumping between passages or books, often I’ll read the words but not the emotions – which sadly misses some important points.
It’s an easy thing to read and indeed when it’s a story you’ve grown up with through school, it is also easy to take for granted. We live insulated lives, safe in our bubble of a country that’s on the whole stable and secure. We have our jobs, our cars, our phones and gadgets. These are only words on a page: metaphors and parables, not real events. We’re separated by near 2000 years of history and our own private lives.
Here in our reading from John tonight, Jesus talks to his followers frankly about his death. About how his time is not forever with them, but soon to come to an end. What a terrible prospect this must have felt to the disciples around Jesus. They’d heard him speak: they’d seen his miracles: they’d shared his truth with others and devoted their lives to his cause. They were enjoying a good thing – and don’t we all want to hold on to that?
You know what I like to do? Breathe. Really; it’s wonderful; each breath sucks in oxygen, which fills my lungs and the blood in my circulatory system whisks that away, to the smallest corners of my body. My cells are enriched and enlivened: I live, I am refreshed: breathing is amazing.
But as good as it is, you know that you can’t hold it. Indeed, if you did, it wouldn’t work: you wouldn’t get the rush of life by holding onto what’s perceived as a positive moment; soon, the act of holding on would cause you to choke, to gasp – as you can’t do it: change has to come. Likewise, Jesus reinforces the message that to gain eternal life, you must die now to that which pleases you. You must turn away from the material distraction, to focus on a more spiritual goal. And you know what: it’s not easy – I like my possessions, my gadgets, my distractions. But when I think about it, how much time have I wasted on these toys, gadgets and electrical items that are obsolete within months of my purchase of them? How often have I found that I thus need the next version, the upgraded model – and in doing so, spent my time and money working towards that? Have I become a slave to what superficially pleases me? Is there a need even now to let go of the temporary that may give me happiness now – in favour of an eternal fulfillment of my life? Am I truly happy now – or am I only happy if I can chase the next model of glass and plastic?
In the short term without our distractions and our earthly comforts we think we suffer. I think we can all think back in our own lives to a time we have felt loss, pain, grief, guilt, fear: now flip to the end of any of the gospels and put those emotions into your reading. Know the feeling of dread Jesus felt as he prayed in the garden before his arrest: the guilt Peter felt after his denial of Jesus: the fear of Jesus followers as they vanished themselves in the wake of his arrest: the loss his mother felt as she watched him dying on the cross. The Easter story is a tragic tale of a great man being mistreated, wrongly accused, beaten and put to death: if it ended there, it’d be the most tragic tale of them all.
However, put aside the negative feelings you have held close as you read the start of the Easter story and put in mind instead a moment of happy anticipation. It might be the nervous giddiness you felt as you waited for your significant other to arrive at church for your wedding: it might be the feeling as a seven year old on Christmas Eve, unable to sleep because of the excitement of presents in the morning.
Keep that hopeful expectation in mind as you read the end of the story; in the days to come as we celebrate his Resurrection. His followers knew, after the fact, that there wasn’t an end: the message of hope Jesus taught to them would thus continue through them – and now, through us – for all who wanted to hear it.