A Reflection for lent 5B by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig on John 12:20-33
And Jesus said to them, “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.
I recently attended a workshop on centering prayer in which the facilitator read the following passage to us from the work of theologian and teacher Cynthia Borgeault:
“Like most the great spiritual masters of our universe, Jesus taught from the conviction that we human beings are victims of a tragic case of mistaken identity. The person I normally take myself to be-that busy, anxious little "I" so preoccupied with its goals, fears, desires, and issues-is never even remotely the whole of who I am, and to seek the fulfillment of my life at this level means to miss out on the bigger life. This is why, according to his teaching, the one who tries to keep his "life" (i.e., the small one) will lose it, and the one who is willing to lose it will find the real thing. Beneath the surface there is a deeper and vastly more authentic Self, but its presence is usually veiled by the clamor of the smaller "I" with its insatiable needs and demands.
Life and death, beginnings and endings, that whole wonderful, rich, messy painful business of the cycle of life, of the radical letting go that is often required to allow transformation and change, God’s new thing in our lives, whatever that might be. We know that beginnings cannot happen without a certain amount of endings….this is the way of life, the rhythm. The seasons themselves show us….the fullness of summer gives way to the dying of autumn and winter and comes to life again in the spring. Life cannot happen without this cycle. We get it, this grain having to go into the earth, to die in order for new life, the need to let something go to create a new possibility. Yes, we accept it on some level, but in reality, most of us have kind of a hard time with the loss side of this equation.
Whether it is the loss of a loved one to death, a dream that does not come true, the end of a relationship, or even simply the movement of transition and change in our lives, when these things happen for us, like the Greeks who came to Phillip, we, too, would like to “see Jesus.” We would like to know that in the challenge of loss or letting go, that God really is with us. And if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes it’s hard for us to know or trust that or to find in those times the good news that God has come to be with us in the person of Jesus, who by his living, dying and rising shows us that that suffering can redeem, that love conquers death, and the grave is not the end.
Jesus comes to call us out as well, to tell us the truth about living a transformed life…. “Those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in the world will keep it….whoever serves me must follow me.”
Both in this reading and in our liturgical cycle we are moving with Jesus ever closer to the end of his life on earth. He knew that the word had spread about his ministry and his teachings and that indeed, “the hour had come.” He was looking at his death; it was time for his greatest loss to be faced, and “his soul was troubled.” At thirty-three we can imagine that he would much prefer to have gone on living, and yet as John writes Jesus’ words, there is a clarity about his purpose and mission, his message that to be broken open and to die is the way to even greater life.
On 1 April 1, 1979 a year before he was shot while preaching at the funeral of a friend’s mother, Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero said the following, "To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid. Those who shun suffering will remain alone. No one is more alone than the selfish. But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest. You will have the deepest satisfactions. Do not fear death or threats; the Lord goes with you,”
While hopefully we will never face martyrdom as the Archbishop did. But we are called to transformation. Called to lose our small lives to find the true life that we are created for. Called to bring into life the truest and deepest of ourselves. Called to be willing to allow our hearts to be opened, and perhaps even broken in the quest for new and greater life.
God has a dream for each of us as beloved ones of God. In Baptism we say in words and ritual that we intend to allow God to raise us to new life and remake us in the image of Christ. If we become willing to die to our old ways, old lives, old selves, we can be transformed into who we are created by God to be. But if we are so in love with, and attached to our small but comfortable life that we refuse to let it go, then just like the grain of wheat, we will stay just as we are. God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ to show us who we can be. Jesus is the one who shows us the purpose of our lives, that we exist in order ‘to make the reality of God present’. For this we need to be focused and alert at all times …so we can grasp those moments when we can say, along with Jesus, ‘the hour has come’. And in Jesus Christ, God also shows us what it can cost to become that and live that way. And in the end the choice is ours.