We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Voices from Lent 5, Year B

1. St. Stephens, Richmond 

This Gospel reading is set during Jesus’ third and last visit to Jerusalem in the Gospel of John. He and his disciples have come for the festival of Passover. This passage follows those in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume, and Jesus makes the entry into Jerusalem that we remember on Palm Sunday.

The dramatic intensity is increasing. The raising of Lazarus has set Jesus on a collision course with the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. His triumphal procession into Jerusalem as the “Kings of the Jews” has put him at odds with the Roman rulers. As we read these passages we feel the wonder and excitement of the crowd, but also the foreboding that lurks between the lines.

Then we are confronted with this curious passage. What is the point of the Greeks asking to see Jesus? Why does this set Jesus saying “The hour has come…”?

It seems that the approach of Greeks (i.e., non-Jews) wanting to meet Jesus is an indication of an important development. In John 10:16 during his discourse about “The Good Shepherd,” Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” The Greeks seeking Jesus are the signal that his message is reaching beyond the Jewish community and that the other sheep are being drawn in.

As for the significance of his statement, “The hour has come…,” earlier in the Gospel, at the wedding in Cana, Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) Now 10 chapters and some three years later, he says his hour has come. That hour is for the glorification of the Father, and through the Father, the glorification of the Son of Man.

Jesus follows this with the curious analogy of his life to that of a grain of wheat. His death/glorification will bear much fruit. Apparently his death will bear even more fruit than his life, for from it more life will spring. Jesus further tells his listeners that it is not he who will be glorified, but that it has been Jesus’ work to glorify the Father.

Once again, as in last Sunday’s reading, Jesus speaks of being lifted up from the earth. In the previous reading the lifting up was so “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” This time he states that the lifting up, the crucifixion, “will draw all people to [him].” Jesus’ encounter with the cross is close at hand, but, at least in John, that encounter is in his hands. Jesus’ death is not ignoble, but a glorious raising up of the Son of Man that draws all people to him and thus to the Father, and brings salvation to all who believe.

2. Lawrence  – "It’s all about witnesses"

John’s gospel is written for a very particular purpose: “These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you might have life in his name” (John 20: 31). John hammers the theme of “believing” time and time and time again in the gospel. Jesus performs “signs” – signs that make clear who he actually is. “Believing” is John’s equivalent of “following” in the Synoptic traditio.

John, we must remember, constructs his gospel very differently from the Synoptic evangelists. Mark, Matthew and Luke take us back into the pre-Easter events, reconstructing the “road” they have followed so that we as readers, like them, might come to discover what they discovered in Jesus. John narrates differently. He begins after Easter. He writes after years of deep reflection on the meaning of it all. His interest isn’t so much in how they came to believe what they did, but in telling us the content of mature, post-Easter faith in Jesus.

Here’s the point, then, about the strange “handing on” of the people who “want to see Jesus”. It’s all about witnesses. There is no direct, unmediated access to Jesus because Jesus is no longer walking among us. Yet it is still possible to “see Jesus” – through the witness of those who have “come to believe” and have experienced the Life that Jesus gives. Mediated access is no less access to the “true” Jesus, as John is at pains to point out: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21: 24).The Greeks “want to see Jesus”, and have to come to see him through the witnesses. In other words, John’s gospel is the content to the Christian witness to Jesus Christ – the witness (the Truth) that enables others to “see Jesus”.

3. Jean Vanier – Drawn into the  Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John

The grain of wheat must die in order to bear much fruit:
fruits of unity and universal peace.
Jesus is speaking of his own death,
and he is also speaking for each one of us.
We, too, are called to die to selfishness
in order to bear fruit and be messengers of peace:
we are called to die to some things that may be good in themselves
but that hinder us on our path towards unity, peace
and greater openness in the Spirit of Jesus. …

4. In my end is my beginning.

Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.

-T.S.Eliot 1888-1965

5. Frederick Buechner -"It is a process and not an event"

It is an experience first and a doctrine second.

Doing the work you’re best at doing and like to do best, hearing great music, having great fun, seeing something very beautiful, weeping at somebody else’s tragedy-all these experiences are related to the experience of salvation because in all of them two things happen: (1) you lose yourself, and(2) you find that you are more fully yourself than usual.

A closer analogy is the experience of love. When you love somebody, it is no longer yourself who is the center of your own universe. It is the one you love who is. You forget yourself. You deny yourself. You give of yourself so that by all the rules of arithmetical logic there should be less of yourself than there was to start with. Only by a curious paradox there is more. You feel that at last you really are yourself.

The experience of salvation involves the same paradox. Jesus put it like this: "He who loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:39)

You give up your old self-seeking self for somebody you love and thereby become yourself at last. You must die with Christ so that you can rise with him, Paul says. It is what baptism (q.v.) is all about.

You do not love God so that, tit for tat, he will then save you. To love God is to be saved. To love anybody is a significant step along the way.

You do not love God and live for him so you will go to Heaven. Whichever side of the grave you happen to be talking about, to love God and live for him is Heaven.

It is a gift, not an achievement.

You can make yourself moral. You can make yourself religious. But you can’t make yourself love.

"We love," John says, "Because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn’t believe in God if you paid him. Some moment happens in your life that you say Yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love.

Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to Business as Usual, it may lose you the ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul.

How about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment-the soreheads and slobs of the world, the ones the world has hopelessly crippled? Maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.

It is a process, not an event.  

6. David Lose  "The Point of Following Jesus" 

Interestingly, it’s hard to know whether these Greeks actually get their wish

What John is very clear about, however, is the kind of Jesus they – and we – will see if we really look. Because upon hearing this request, Jesus immediately looks ahead to the cross. The hour he speaks about, the glory he prays for, the fulfillment of his mission and destiny he anticipates – all of this revolves around his cross, his obedient embrace of sacrificial love to the point of death.

..The point of faith in Jesus isn’t just faith, or comfort, or satisfying spiritual desires. No, the point of following Jesus is that we might be drawn more deeply into the kingdom of God through our love for, service to, and sacrifice on behalf of those around us. Jesus comes to demonstrate God’s strength through vulnerability, God’s power through what appears weak in the eyes of the world, and God’s justice through love, mercy and forgiveness. And he calls those who would follow him to the very same kind of life and love. Is this the Jesus the Greeks want to see? Is it the Jesus we want to see? I have no idea. But I do know that the Jesus who reveals the heart of our loving God by going to the cross is the Jesus we get, and the Jesus who is raised again on the third day to demonstrate that love is more powerful than hate and life more powerful than death is the Jesus we are called to preaching.