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Abundant hope amidst dying

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Good Friday – March 30, 2018

John 12:20-26 and Psalm 22:1-18, 26-31

Anna Maria Tremonti, is a presenter on “The Current”, which is a program on  CBC. She recently spoke on how over the past hundred years or so, our society has increasingly attempted to try and avoid death. She explains how we have our loved ones immediately whisked away to a funeral home and quickly put in a closed casket.  Get the process done as fast as possible with as little pain as possible.  In contrast however, in recent times, some people have tried to buck this trend.  They try to embrace the dying of a loved one by keeping them close by as they go through some important rituals to say their farewell.

Tremonti interviewed a woman by the name of Sarah Kerr.  Sarah was with her father Bill when he died last April at a nursing home in Nelson, B.C. For three days following his death, Sarah and her family kept their father with him. They bathed him, built a casket and told their favourite stories about Bill.

In Jesus’ time, it was traditional to have the body with the family for many days.  It was traditional to dress them, bathe them, talk with them and pray with them.  Family and close friends were able to say “good bye” in a very nurturing kind of way.  I think it’s important for us to understand this as we ponder Jesus death.  Not only was it unbelievably violent, but his body was publicly displayed in it’s unfathomable pain and agony. Then Jesus body body was whisked away and there was no time for traditional ‘good byes”.

As we all know, on Good Friday we remember how Jesus left us. But on this same Good Friday we also know that He comes back to us forever. Much like the grain of wheat we’ve read about in the scriptures today, Jesus dies on this day and is buried in the ground. After Good Friday – in a sense – similar to the grain of wheat, only in a much greater way, Jesus eventually “sprouts” and belief in Him also starts coming forth from this event and reproduces itself many times over.

We just read that, during the last week of Jesus’ life on earth, some Greeks came to Jesus to meet Him and to worship Him. They wanted to pay a visit to Him in person and had approached Philip about a visit. Philip approached Andrew to help him go and tell Jesus of this request.

But Jesus answered them, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Was Jesus perhaps showing a hint of avoidance in this sequence? Some have even speculated that these Greeks wanted to take Jesus to Greece and to their refined culture of Socrates and other philosphers. After all, the Jews weren’t showing much appreciation towards Jesus. But the Scriptures don’t tell us anything about this.

This way Jesus would be entertained by the Greek enlightened thinking. (All of this is, as I’ve said, mere speculation.) But just “say?” Just imagine Jesus having this opportunity to prolong his life by slipping away from this encounter He had with the Jewish authorities and Pontius Pilate.

However, Jesus might have thwarted this notion of escaping and heading towards Greek enlightenment, by pointing out that his hour had come. “Listen carefully,” He says, “Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.”

Think of how a grain of wheat, which should be feeding people, gets buried under the ground and something great happens with the seed! It’s only through this route that an abundant harvest can be expected. This only happens when it dies. It certainly isn’t pleasant for the grain of wheat. As soon as a bit of rain falls on the earth, all sorts of chemical reactions occur. The sheath of the grain gets eaten away. Death is very unpleasant to us, and will always be.

Isn’t the way that a grain of wheat goes in the ground, in a sense, what happens to Jesus? Jesus had to die and be placed in a tomb, in the earth, He had to die a real death.

The Greeks had to hear that if Jesus wanted to remain faithful to his calling, if He was going to redeem the world, then there would only be one path, and that is to die.

Friends, I wonder if this letting go of life isn’t one of the hardest things for anyone to do. Can we easily die to a love for ourselves? In other words, can we start putting others before ourselves? I don’t think the Lord expects us to detest ourselves, but a healthy dose of putting others before ourselves makes us way less self-centred. So often we do however lean towards being very individualistic, caring solely for the “me” in ourselves. It’s not the popular thing to let go of our own interests. But when we do it, this is when we bear fruit. Isn’t this the real route to spiritual growth? Think of the early Christians…it is said of them that the “blood of the martyrs” was the seed of the church.

The way of the cross is eventually the way of light. “Via crucis, via lucis,” a Latin saying goes. Similar to the disciples of Jesus, the opportunity awaits us to move out, disperse and be interested in the world out there, and not primarily in ourselves. The church can truly only have a function when we die to our own self-interest.

Jesus Christ died on Good Friday, so that He could bring abundant hope to a world that so often shows interest in itself as opposed to interest in “the other.” Isn’t it eventually through the cross that we can bring light and abundant well-being to a world crying for help.

 

Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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