A sermon by The Reverend Ann Edwards
21 March 2021
5th Sunday of Lent
Do you have a favourite cross? The choices we make in the crosses we choose to wear, or to have on our walls, tell a story.
The cross I wear is a vine within the shape of the timber – to me it is the sign of the life that is in Christ, that we are all grafted into and nourished by.
The cross that we will mount on our wall outside here at St Andrew’s is constructed from substantial hardwood, a cross that will last our lifetimes, and will be lit from behind so that all will see it.
And our cross in the sanctuary, that we see every week, depicts Christ as he died. As a young person, in my faith community, this was not the fashion. I confess to you here that there was a smug superiority in having a cross without the form of Jesus, because we knew Jesus wasn’t there anymore. He had risen victorious. Sin and death are vanquished. The battle belongs to the Lord. Jesus has ascended and the story is finished.
Except sin, suffering and death are still our realities.
Can we face that? Dare we see that? Where is God in all this mess? It is too easy to oversimplify the Gospel so that difficult things are swept away and truth becomes obscured.
Today, our Gospel text comes from John, a text that is explicit in its agenda.
20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Each story in this gospel was selected not for a historical retelling, but to illustrate what and why the reader should believe. It presents the reality of the Gospel.
John builds a compelling Gospel. The book begins by naming Jesus as God, invites the reader with the disciples to “come and see”, then goes on to show the reader Jesus. Repeated in John is this idea of seeing and hearing, over and over, and a sense of snowballing evidence mounting towards a climactic event. Jesus’s divinity and humanity is observable.
In the first chapter…
John the Baptist was called a witness to the light.
He saw the spirit descend on Jesus when he baptised Christ
The baptist told his disciples to look, this is the lamb of god
Jesus told Andrew to come and see,
Philip told Nathaniel to come and see
And Jesus promised that Nathaniel would see heaven opened,
The theme of encounter, of observing, or seeing for yourself, not just by sight but in listening and experience continues through the narrative.
Another motif in the Gospel of John is time – in Jesus, God has entered into human time, and we are propelled towards a climactic hour.
It begins when Jesus tells his mother – my hour has not yet come, but turns water to wine regardless.
In Chapter 4 Jesus promises the Samaritan woman that the hour is coming when worship will not be bound to the temple or mountain, but will instead spring from spirit and truth and in Chapter 5 we hear the hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live, and all in their graves will hear his voice. We draw closer to the time in Chapter 7 – they tried to arrest Jesus but his hour had not yet come.
Now here, in Chapter 12, we reach a point where everything changes.
The Greeks approach, and say “we wish to see Jesus.”
Even the Greek diaspora have come to see Jesus. The disciples that themselves dropped their lives to “come and see” now relay to Jesus that the world has come to see. This time, Jesus responds not by promising a future time, but by recognising and stating that his hour had come.
In this text – the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. We are on a precipice, teetering towards the discovery of what it means to see, what salvation entails, what the hour holds.
Things are about to become observable, real.
Last week, we heard the story of Israel grumbling about God and Moses in the wilderness, and the poisonous serpents that came amongst them as a result. The people recognised the reality of their sin, confessed, and asked Moses to pray for the serpents to be removed. That’s the formula, right? Now God is supposed to agree. But the serpents remain. Instead, the cure provided was an instruction to look up and see a snake represented in bronze, and to face the reality of their affliction. There was no magic work or sacrifice or formula to release them from the consequence of their lack of gratitude – the problem was not removed but instead, the people were saved by facing the poison amongst them. They were saved by facing the reality of their grumbling, the source of the danger amongst them, and by facing the reality of their reliance upon God. They needed to shed the idol of their own creation, their idea about what God should do and how things should be. To achieve this, they were forced to build instead a symbol of their own responsibility for their circumstances and their reliance on God.
Now Jesus tells us his time has come. He will be lifted up, like the bronze snake. The hour is not a victorious battle, or a miraculous overturning of injustice. The serpents don’t disappear and God doesn’t sweep in to undo the harm caused by greed and selfish desire for power. Jesus enters the horror, the cruelty, and the suffering of world and shows it for what it is. Jesus’s hour was Christ condemned by the religious figures, brutalised by the state, whose suffering was enabled and celebrated by a blood thirsty crowd.
We don’t know what the Greeks were able to see – did they meet Jesus in his last hours of freedom, or see Jesus on the cross. All the way through the Gospel of John, we hear it’s not my time, it’s not yet time. But now, it IS time. John connects these events, pointing to exactly what the world must observe, to authentically give glory to God.
God is glorified in the light shone on violence, injustice, and the consequent suffering, so that it is seen for what it is. While there is much that is mysterious in Jesus’s incarnation, death and resurrection, there is also much that is observable and clear and unambiguously real and that must be seen.
Today, it seems as though we are again at a precipice.
Christ is still showing us the reality of our situations. When millions of children march telling us they want a future. When politicians from island states weep because their land is disappearing. When women gather thousands upon thousand to say enough is enough.
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.
Seeing the truth allows us to hear the voice that speaks.
Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”…
Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.
When we sing of God’s glory, what do we imagine? Heaven and light and singing angels? All of which are to God’s glory. And here, John tells us that God is glorified in the brutality and suffering of the cross. Glorifying God is not just a matter of believing the creative power and grace and forgiveness and the wonder and beauty of God. Although these are all wonderful things, and good for reflection. Glorifying God requires seeing the truth of our situations. God was glorified in the reality of the cross. It’s a hard truth, and this voice was for our sake.
What will it take for us to see that once again, the hour has come?
Christ did not want to face that hour, but saw that the hour had come.
“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.
We may not want to face that reality, to see the face of Christ being crucified in our very own times.
By looking in the face of this suffering, will there be an awakening that makes clear the truth of the harm our actions have caused one another, and the environment? Or is humanity in peril of regressing into a dark age, where opinion and self preservation are our idols.
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
God is not going to sweep in and clean up our mess. Only facing the reality of our situation can do that. Christ invites us to come and see.
Like Israel in the wilderness, our antidote to the poison around us remains exactly the same today. We need to give up any idea of what we think God should do. Instead, we must look up to Christ, lifted up, and see the truth of our situation. The truth that is spoken by today’s prophets who invite us to come and see, and to challenge the status quo. In doing so, we lose the life we thought we had, and instead find the life that God offers.
And now, I look at our cross, and see the love of God that would enter into the brokenness of our world.Christ’s hour is still now. And in the face of the suffering that continues, we can know that the promise of the resurrection is also still ours.
As difficult as it is to face the hour, to face the reality and truth we are shown we. know that we are doing so in the love of Jesus’s gaze, held in the grace of the Father, guided always in the Spirit. It’s all there – we just need to look up and see.