The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Lent 5—Year B; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33. Video
Okay, we are one week out from Holy Week, and today the lessons are swirling.
In this last stretch of peeling away the layers of dust around our heart and soul, we’ve got all of these hopeful scriptures. Jeremiah reminding us that the days are surely coming when the LORD will make a new covenant with God’s people; a time, God says, when “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” That is such good new! For hearts that are weary and battered and weighted down and frightened, to come into full awareness that God is written on our heart, and that whatever has blocked us from that love, whatever sin has been in the way, it is forgiven; our sin, our walls, our armor, these are not the things that God chooses to remember—God only wants us to know that God and God’s love are written all over our hearts.
And then, psalm 51 comes along to remind us, just as it did on Ash Wednesday, that God is merciful and full of loving-kindness and that the divine M.O. is compassion. God is in the business of washing and cleansing so that we can see the truth and wisdom deep within us that God knows is there. God is hands-on when it comes to cleaning the dust off of our hearts and renewing our spirits, setting them right again when they have gone off the rails, and all of this is done so that we can hear once again and experience the deep joy that comes when you know that you and your dusty humanity are deeply, deeply loved and cherished.
And then comes Hebrews 5 reminding us that Jesus struggled with this path that was set before him just as much as we struggle with the paths set before us. He offered up prayers and supplications, not neatly, but with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard, though that didn’t save him from journey that would be his to make. But somehow, in that mystery beyond mysteries, as he moved through his suffering, he was made perfect, “complete” in the greek, and somehow, Jesus finding wholeness, even in his suffering, opens the way for us to find wholeness in ours. I don’t know exactly how it works, but you can see this in those who have undergone great suffering—there is a strength, there is a calm, there is a solidness. I saw it this week in someone who is moving through cancer treatments, strength just radiated from them; they simply glowed with that strength. It was amazing just to witness it.
And finally, we come to the story in John. According to the timeline in John’s gospel, Jesus has already completed his Palm Sunday procession. He is present in Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And some Greeks, read gentiles, want to see Jesus. They don’t feel worthy to ask for what they want directly, so they go to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” He goes and finds Andrew, and together they go and tell Jesus. Jesus answers a little cryptically with the “hour-has-come” bit, and the “grain-of-wheat-that-has-to-die-if-it’s-going-to-bear-much-fruit,” and the “loving-your-life-you-lose-it-and-hating-it-you-keep-it,” and the “serving-Jesus-means-following-Jesus-and-following-means-going-where-he-goes.” It’s almost like Jesus is thinking out loud, and we’re just listening in, like he’s coming to terms with the fact that this is the hour, this is the moment; his journey has wound him to this place at this time for this reason. It will be the judgment of the world, the crisis point, when the ruler of this world won’t hold sway and God’s deep desire to draw all people in will win out. Somehow, Jesus being lifted up, in death and in resurrection, somehow this dance of suffering and dying and rising, somehow, all people will be drawn into that dance and find their wholeness in that rhythm.
And the thing is, gazing upon Jesus on the cross, gazing on that suffering and allowing yourself to share in it, the opportunity to do that is everywhere.
I heard a story driving to work Friday morning that feels like a living icon of how this works. It’s the story of how the running club from Midnight Mission Shelter and Addiction Center located on skid row in L.A. is running a marathon in Rome this morning. These homeless people might certainly be the Greeks that seek out Philip, living on the outside of the dominant culture, wondering if they can catch a glimpse of Jesus. Well, one of them was brave enough to ask, and he went to the judge who had sentenced him to prison, and he asked that judge to come down to the Mission.
The judge, a man by the name of Craig Mitchell, did, and from that encounter, a dream was born, to start a running club. Through that running club, people have found sobriety and health, but they have found so much more; they have found wholeness. One man, Ryan Navales, said of his friendship with Craig Mitchell, “He saw us for who we are. And he treated us like equals. That was important in those early stages. You know, trying to find some kind of self-worth and some self-confidence and some positive momentum in life.”
And Craig Mitchell said this, “A real boon to my own life is meeting people who have unique attributes, qualities, personalities, etc. and to partake of that. I won’t forget these encounters that I’ve had with these guys.”
Who is Jesus in this story, and where did he get seen, and how did he draw all people to himself?
The power of this story is that Jesus gets revealed, Jesus gets seen, when one guy had the courage to ask another to cross the great divide and come be in relationship with those who, far from being lifted up, had actually been discarded by society. And those men being able to see their own worth and strength mirrored back to them in the eyes of someone who entered into relationship with them, they came to see themselves the way that God sees them, and they were drawn back into life.
And in seeing Jesus in the weak and vulnerable, that judge came to see the Jesus who is strong that lives inside of that suffering, and that made the judge whole in a way that he had not been whole before. “To partake of that,” he said—that’s the very essence of communion; to partake of another; to participate in the essence of another’s life and being and to have them participate in the essence of yours; to feed on one another and to drink deeply of that shared cup of communion with one another—oh, that’s the moment when Jesus is lifted up, and it draws us into places and relationships and experiences of love that make our hearts new.
Where is Jesus praying, yearning, crying out loudly with tears to be lifted up, crying out to be recognized? Who is whispering in our ears, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus—can you help us?” or even more, “Sir, we wish you to see Jesus, will you come and let us show you where he lives?” And together, together, as we see one another, we come to see that it is Jesus who is doing the seeing; it is Jesus who is doing the looking—through our eyes to the other and through the other’s eyes to us, and in that moment of communion, we will see him lifted up, and we will find ourselves drawn into this love that truly saves our souls.
What has to die in us so that we can ask for our heart’s deepest longing—to see Jesus, to know God? And what has to die in us that we might go to the place where he is longing to meet us?
As you sit with these questions, remember, the answers are already written on your heart. On this 5th Sunday in Lent, all we are trying to do is clear away everything that keeps us from hearing that call of the heart. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 22, 2015