Sermons are meant to be heard – Press Play
The Hour has Come
I spent a lot of time agonizing over this sermon. Truth be told I agonize over writing all of my sermons. I will admit that it scares me that weekly preaching is in my near future. Now I am not telling you this so that you will feel sorry for me I am not looking for sympathy. I am telling you this to illustrate that we all have to do things that are tough, but that often we can find benefit in those things that aren’t so easy. In this case, preparing a sermon forces me to dig deeper into a text than I would ever have gone before. This task forces me to ask questions I could and would likely otherwise easily avoid. This work ends up allowing me into a deeper relationship with God. And these are all good things.
While preparing today’s sermon I realized I was struggling with the theology behind the crucifixion, the theology of the cross. I was spending a lot of time working out my personal feelings and beliefs around the suffering and death of Christ on the cross. I was reflecting on my personal struggle and found myself wondering how maybe some years of experience as a preacher might help with that. So I went to Pastor Doug and asked, “After many years of writing sermons do you find that you still struggle with your own personal understanding of theology, or have you worked that all out?” His reply was “Yes I still struggle”. Not exactly the answer I was hoping for, I was hoping that this would get easier. Did I mention that pretty soon I am going to have to do this every week?
We are always seeking easy answers, aren’t we?
Today’s gospel text points us to the cross of Good Friday. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”.
Many Christians will not attend church on Good Friday. Some won’t come because they see Good Friday as a holiday, a time of rest, a time to do nothing. Others will have to work, some jobs just can’t shut down . . . doctors . . . nurses . . . police . . . to name just a few. Some of us will use the day to catch up on work around the house, maybe use the holiday to do a bit of spring-cleaning.
Some of you have told me that you just don’t “do” Good Friday. Not for any of the reasons I just mentioned but because you do not want to be reminded of the hell, Christ went through on the cross. And when I think of Good Friday, my mind often automatically goes to Mel Gibson’s portrayal, “The Passion of the Christ”. In particular, the excruciatingly long and painful torture scene, where Christ is whipped and beaten over and over. Is this what Jesus was referring to when he said, “The Hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”?
The cross is a prominent symbol of our faith. A symbol of Christ glorified. Just last Sunday we proudly sang that great thunderous hymn “Lift High the Cross”. With chests puffed out, we celebrated the Christ that is lifted up. This is the glory we want to celebrate, the glory we love to celebrate. The lifted up, the resurrected Christ. We use the cross as a symbol of Christ’s power in the world. The last thing we want to lift up is Christ’s death. We would rather avoid Good Friday. Let’s admit it, that would be easier, and after all there is already enough pain and suffering in the world.
What is this hour that has come? As we get closer to Good Friday the drama builds. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary has anointed Jesus feet, Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem. The reaction of people to these events varies. There are crowds that form to hear from this great teacher and healer, and still others plot his death. Love him or hate him, all eyes including those of some of the Gentiles are on Jesus. The intrigue is increasing and the stage is set for a powerful statement from Jesus to us and his disciples describing what is about to happen; and more importantly what it all means. Jesus tries to tell us once again what his task really is.
Jesus knew we would have trouble making sense of his death. And that’s the whole point of Jesus’ words here in John’s Gospel. Jesus is interpreting his death for us. Telling us what it means before it happens. Making sense of something that seems to make no sense at all.
Some theologians over the years have tried to make sense of Jesus’ saving action as a blood sacrifice to an angry and offended God. A price paid to reverse the disastrous misbehaviour of all humanity past, present, and future. But this theology just doesn’t quite sit right. It does not adequately reflect the God revealed by Jesus. The God Jesus reveals to us, is the God of mercy and love.
Yet the cross as sacrificial atonement for our failings is neat and easy. It almost works as one of those easy answers we seek. Karoline Lewis in her sermon on this text points out,
We want simple reconciliation. We want this to be all part of the plan. We want it to be THE plan. We want this to make sense. But it doesn’t. And as soon as we explain it or rationalize it or justify it, well, we have made the cross an expectation, a necessitation, a justification. And so, when the hour arrives, Jesus has no choice but to shift our gaze, to put things into focus, to get us to see differently. Because if we want the cross to be about suffering and how good and necessary and salvific it is, think again. If we think it should be about sacrifice, think again. If we want to view it as some sort of divine initiation, think again.
So if your mind works at all like mine, as we read today’s text, on this the last Sunday of Lent. . . .as we approach Good Friday, as Jesus moves toward his arrest. . . the background singers from Jesus Christ Superstar are beginning to crescendo . . . we should be hearing loud and clear . . . don’t you get me wrong . . . don’t you get me wrong now!
So if the cross is not about easy answers, if crucifixion isn’t really some simple fix, what is it?
“The Hour has come”, says Jesus. This is an hour that his whole life has been leading to, the hour in which he is glorified.. “You want to see me?” Jesus asks. “You want to know what the cross will be about? Well, let me tell you. It’s not about anything you want it to be or need it to be. It’s about what God wants it to be and needs it to be.” It’s not just about the future, it’s also everything about the present.
Jesus trying to help us understand tells a simple parable, “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.”
The cross is about death. But not death as compensation.
Jesus parable tells us that the cross is death to love of the things of this world . . .things that are incarnate . . . that the things that are of humanity must die. The writer of John’s gospel is not concerned with forgiveness of individual sin or a form of substitutionary atonement, for the writer of John crucifixion critiques and evaluates “the world”. Our world is a superhuman reality made flesh in our structures and institutions, and those structures and institutions hold us captive. Death must come to them so that we may have real life and bear much fruit.
Charles Campbell refers to the crucifixion as an exorcism where the systems of this world are judged and their driving force is “cast out” by the cross. This world holds on to systems that are driven by consumerism, domination, and violence. Consumption of material goods doesn’t give us life, it kills others in sweatshops. The hierarchy of winners and losers that we have setup doesn’t give life, it perpetuates racism, sexism, heterosexism, sucking the life out of those who differ from us. As for violence you would think it would be obvious to us how it takes away life, and yet we cling to a system that tries to create order out of chaos by violently defeating the other.
Jesus on the cross exposes these systems of this world for what they are, opponents of God’s will. Not the way of life, the way of death. Jesus revealing our worldly structures for what they are frees us from them. Free to die to a life shaped by the system. Instead we may live fully, freely, and abundantly in the way of Jesus. The cross is not the end it is just the beginning. The start of a life eternal that will bear much fruit.
It is true, we want some type of miracle to happen in the death of Jesus on the cross, because we think that somehow that would have it all make sense. Okay maybe it wouldn’t make sense, but it sure would be easier. But today, still two weeks before the big event. Jesus says its not going to be easy because in order to have new life we must first suffer death.
Let us pray. God of Glory, we try our best to make sense of your death. In doing so we either look to the cross for easy answers, or turn away from it all together. Today we pray that we might let go of what we need the cross to be, so that we can be open to what the cross already is for us, that we might see, that you lived because you died. Give us the the grace to let go of our lives, so that we too may truly live. The hour has come. Glorify your name. Amen