‘Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.’ (12:26)
|William Blake - Christ Nailed to the Cross The Third Hour|
With Passion Sunday we are invited to turn our attention more closely to the events of Holy Week and Easter which will soon unfold before us. The words of both the Liturgy and the hymns change to focus our minds more sharply on events of Good Friday and on the Cross. Likewise, our readings lead us to meditate more deeply on the suffering and death of Jesus. As the last fortnight of Lent, commonly called Passiontide, begins it seems that dark clouds are gathering and the final journey to Calvary is imminent.
In our gospel reading we find a contrast between the impending glorification of Jesus and his anxiety about the sufferings he will undergo – glory and suffering, exaltation and pain, this is placed before us. Jesus affirms that the hour of his glorification has arrived (v.23); but he also says that his soul is troubled (v.27), and that he is going to be ‘lifted up from the earth’ (v.32) thus pointing his disciples towards the Cross. Yet, all these elements which only superficially seem to contrast one another are part of the same event, the final glorification of Jesus. So what is this “hour of glorification”?
“Glorification” for Jesus means the moment of his Passion ending with his Crucifixion – something quite removed from our way of thinking about glory. In the crucifixion, in this act of final and complete self-giving love, the Father will be fully revealed in and through Jesus; the Father’s love for his creation will be revealed in its fullness thus manifesting real “glory” – the love of a God who chooses to surrender into our hands the most precious good he knows, his own reflection, his only begotten Son, in order to show us that there isn’t anything he would spare for our sake, and for the sake of a relationship with us.
Remember the words Jesus said earlier in John’s gospel – in fact, don’t just call them to mind, but brand them on your heart, because there are the key to understand the events of Easter. Jesus said,
‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)
‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’. This is the hour is which these words come to pass. This is the hour of glorification. In the Cross the Father gives Jesus into our hands, so that we may find eternal life in him.
But how can this be glorification for the Son who undergoes pain and humiliation? you might ask. Again, “Glorification” for Jesus means doing the Father’s will in everything and to the very end; therefore, the Passion and the Cross come as the climax and final seal of a life uniquely devoted to obeying the Father. As much as we struggle to believe it sometimes, and to understand it even more often, the Cross is the crowning glory of Jesus, and the lasting proof that the Father loves us with infinite love. The resurrection will come into play into this as the demonstration that such a great love cannot die and that eternal life is the fitting reward promised to those who do the Father’s will.
So too, Jesus tells his disciples that glorification and honour from the Father will come to us if we endeavour to do his will just as He does. Observe what Jesus says about the grain of wheat.
‘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.’ (v.24)
Christ is the grain of wheat, who in dying on the Cross produces fruit by bringing many to life. But in our little we too are called to do likewise. If you have ever sawn a seed in your garden you will know exactly the meaning of this short parable. A single seed, in this case a single grain, will produce new life germinating; it will develop, flourish, and it will eventually multiply by bearing fruit. Yet, in order to do so I must to let go of the seed; I have to stop holding on to it with tightly clenched fists; in a sense I have to take a risk, I have to entrust it to the ground, so that, once its shape has been destroyed by the new roots and shoots, it will be able to bear fruit in new life.
On the Cross Jesus is glorified as the true grain of wheat, but as his disciples we are asked to be where he is. For a few people being where Jesus is may mean accepting the Cross of martyrdom just as Jesus did; but broadly for every Christian “Glorification” will mean letting go of self-serving and self-centred attitudes, of vanity and pride, of gossip and selfish machinations. “Glorification” will mean serving others (particularly those in need) with genuine love, helping our church ungrudgingly, being constant and diligent in attending church worship and in personal prayers, and persevering in the Father’s will until the very end; or as Charles Wesley put it, to be
Ready for all thy perfect will,my acts of faith and love repeat,till death thy endless mercies seal,and make the sacrifice complete.