John 12:20-33 (NRSV)
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 honour.
'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 judgement 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.
For many in the Northeast this has been a winter to remember. A winter that has broken many records: the most snowfall, the coldest temperatures, the most school days cancelled for children. In our household it has been sickness that has seemed to be record breaking. Coughs, colds, the flu, even our bulldog Charlie hasn't been immune. It's as if the storms brewing outside somehow found their way into the sanctuary of our home and our spirits. And I find myself as we move farther into the season of Lent, like those who approached the disciples in this week's passage, saying, almost pleading, "I wish to see Jesus."
During one particularly hard week last month, a friend of mine sent me a poem from Robert Frost, entitled "Tree At My Window." Here is the last stanza:
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.
Over the last couple of weeks I have read this poem several times thinking about 'inner' and 'outer' weather. Wondering if Jesus, as he made his way ever closer to Jerusalem and ultimately the cross, didn't ponder some of these same questions about the turbulent storms brewing in and around him? In fact he admitted that, "My soul is troubled."
I admit that there is some sense of comfort for me in this confession, knowing that even though Jesus knew where he was headed and what was to happen, that his inner spirit still ached. Comfort in knowing that Jesus was so very human, that like me, and maybe you too, death wasn't something he celebrated without also acknowledging his deep sense of sadness and loss.
Friends, looking out at the frozen ground and the piles of snow which remain, it is easy to focus only on death and all that has been lost in our world in the last couple of months. I don't need to make a list; each of you has yours memorized I'm sure. Very easy to focus on death without remembering that indeed underneath the frozen tundra, life is actually at work!
You see, Jesus also said during those incredibly difficult time, "...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." Life is a part of death as death is a part of life: inner and outer storms. However, it is only when the storm has stopped, or the snow has melted, that we are able to recognize the beauty and the transformation which has taken place even when we could not see. It is only through Jesus' death and ultimate resurrection that we understand, even in part, what was (and is) achieved by the love and grace of our God!
Life eternal. It may be difficult to see right now, but we must trust that God is doing God's best work even amidst the storms of our lives, even under the heaps of snow, even in the face of death and sorrow.
What dies will indeed live again. Thanks be to God. Amen.
associate minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford