John 12: 20-33
Good morning, and grace and peace. First Sunday of spring, Fifth Sunday in Lent, and on the traditional calendar of the Church Year, Passion Sunday, beginning the final stretch in Lent, two weeks of Passiontide, preparing in our hearts and minds for the drama of Holy Week, turning our attention to the destination on the road we began to walk on Christmas Eve, beginning with the shepherds as they rushed down to Bethlehem to gaze into the Manger, now lifting our eyes to the Cross—as we of course can literally do every Sunday morning here at St. Andrew’s.
In the calendar of the 1979 Prayer Book this Sunday lost its traditional title, and then the next Sunday, Palm Sunday, was renamed more expansively “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday,” to emphasize the new tradition in the lectionary to offer the extended reading of the Passion Gospel at the beginning of Holy Week. I think the opportunity to hear the full Passion story on the Sunday of Holy Week is a great thing, especially because so many are not able to arrange work and family schedules to participate in other Holy Week and Good Friday services, but I am also thankful that although Passion Sunday has lost its official place on the calendar we are still today directed to the Cross, and here in John 12 of course to the great word of Jesus that we recalled last Sunday in the context of the reading from Numbers, as Moses lifted up that Bronze Serpent for the healing of the Israelites in the Wilderness—which continues to be the interpretive context for us this morning.
The setting of John 12 is in fact Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ dramatic entry into the Holy City Jerusalem, and in the bustle of the crowds of those who have come to celebrate the Passover are some Greek-speaking Jews. They have heard the shouts of the crowds welcoming Jesus, and there is stirred up in their hearts a sudden desire to know more, and more than simply idle curiosity. They come to Philip and say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Words that are sometimes carved into the wood of pulpits as a reminder to preachers of what this formal and sacramental task is all about. I imagine that when these religious pilgrims awakened that morning this wasn’t on the agenda, but now deep in their minds and hearts and imaginations they discover a yearning more powerful than any they had ever known before. “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
Sometimes this is an important tap on the shoulder when we think about outreach and church growth and evangelism questions. We love to invite folks to experience fun social activities and to make new friends, to enjoy beautiful architecture and great music and all the rest. All wonderful. But underneath it all, in and with it all, that same yearning. The English writer Evelyn Underhill said so succinctly: “the thing that is interesting about religion, is God.” We would let them speak for us this morning, for those who are seekers and inquirers, setting out on the road of discipleship, opening eyes and ears and minds and hearts, and to be reminded always of what we’re actually doing here. What this is all really about. Who it’s all about. As Paul in Second Corinthians 4, “it is not ourselves that we proclaim, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” It’s not about us. About him.
Passiontide. The Lord has returned to Zion—ride on in majesty!--to the very gates of his Temple, and the nations are streaming in, yearning to know him. As we are here. This is the hour in which his glorification begins. The voice from heaven confirms it, rolls out like thunder across the land, across all creation, time and space.
“And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me,” John 12, on our Rood Beam. That this instrument of terror and death becomes for us the sign of mercy and love, forgiveness, grace, the fullness of abundant life, the heart of God’s goodness beyond all measure, at the very center of all that is, heaven and earth. The reason to invite a friend to church. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. What we want even when we’re not quite sure ourselves what we want.
So the old hymn: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood. The New Covenant promised by God in Jeremiah, as we heard this morning. “For they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
So we would enter this season, taking it seriously. High stakes. A matter of life and death. The story plays out before us with drama and intensity. Sir, we would see Jesus. Familiar, because we’ve seen it all a thousand times. Yet new. As if for the first time. And asking us to stand up and follow along, become a part of it ourselves.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.