“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”. These are the famous words beginning today’s scene in John’s Gospel. Well, they are famous if you are a preacher. These are the words engraved in many a pulpit. No, not facing out so the congregation can read them. I mean, carved or painted or scratched so the preacher can’t miss them when she places her notes down and reads: “Reverend, we would see Jesus.” I suppose it is the question most every first time visitor to the Christian church is asking, one way or the other. After all, visitors to Buddhist Temples wish to see the Buddha. Newcomers to Islam wish to see Mohammed. Visitors to Christian churches wish to see Jesus. It is a good reminder for preachers who often assume Jesus and then get busy talking about other things, other issues, other interesting diversions Sunday after Sunday. In a world where Jesus is otherwise regularly overlooked “we wish to see Jesus.”
Notice it is the identity of these particular visitors that drives the plot of John’s gospel towards its dramatic conclusion: “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.” Greeks. It is the first time in John’s gospel Greeks have arrived on the scene. He has hinted this hour will come. Just a few pages earlier he said: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). Now other sheep are arriving, seeking to join the flock. Greeks find Philip. He has a Greek name, perhaps he speaks Greek. Philip tells Andrew, together - being good ushers - they go and tell Jesus some Greeks want to see him.
This is the last we see of the Greeks. Their part in the drama is over. They slip on stage left and off stage right. They have a bit part. But it is a crucial part. They signal the arrival of Gentiles. So far it has a been a story of Jews and of Samaritans (who lay claim to being true Jews). Now the rest of the world shows up - the pagan, heathen, civilized, foreign world of everyone who is not Jewish. In other words, for most all of us, this is our entry onstage. We, too, wish to see Jesus.
When Jesus hears this he does not say “Did you give them an appointment?” Nor does he say “Send them over so I can meet them.” Not even “I don’t have time for any Greeks.” No. Jesus answers the news from Philip and Andrew by saying “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”. The hour has come. Really? This is what it took? All through John’s gospel Jesus has been saying “My hour has not yet come.” Remember. Way back in the second chapter when mother Mary says the wine has run out at the wedding in Cana. Jesus replies: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). But now, now when two Greeks arrive seeking Jesus his hour has come, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. His hour is for the sake of the whole world that God so loves.
Glorified. It rings a bell. Remember. Back at the turn from Epiphany to Lent. Back at the joint West-side churches service that we participated in at Knox United on Transfiguration Sunday five weeks ago. The Transfiguration is a dramatic portrayal of Jesus being glorified. Glory, you remember, is the presence and power and gravitas - the 'kabod' - of God. Remember, too, Peter and the disciples get glory mixed up with success and triumph. They sing “Glory, glory, hallelujah” and imagine a church out front with Jesus in the lead. Glorious. But remember Jesus rejects this kind of glory, cursing when Peter says no to Jesus’ call to carry a cross and to follow. And, remember, God gets the last word. In the clouds, on the mountain, with Moses and Elijah as witnesses, God speaks a haiku-like three word sermon: “Listen to him.” It is how we entered Lent. We were climbing down from the Mount of Transfiguration, having seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is a face revealing God’s glory in human suffering and death.
Now here we are, nearing the climax of the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross and to the death and to the resurrection. Now, says Jesus, “the Hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Once again he teaches an upside down glory. This theology of glory is a theology of the cross, a theology of dying in order to be lifted up on the other side in a new life. “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. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also” .
John’s gospel is odd. Matthew, Mark and Luke all enter the witness stand and tell the story of what they have seen and heard with remarkable similarity. It is the reason those three are called the “synoptics”. It means all three take a similar point of view of the story of Jesus. And then comes John. His testimony is not similar. It is operatic, it is kaleidoscopic, it is impressionistic. Or, as Will Willimon reports, “One of my students says that John is like Matthew ... on LSD.” But here, here when it comes to glorifying Jesus - or, to be more precise - when Jesus comes to glorifying God, here John is right in line with the witness of Matthew, Mark and Luke in the court-room. And all four of them are lined up with Paul in offering the same mutual testimony. For all five - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul - glory cannot be mentioned without speaking of the cross. And the cross cannot be mentioned without turning to us, to us and to any who come wishing to see Jesus and to follow him.
Glorifying Jesus is not a spectator sport. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth,” says Jesus, “will draw all people to myself.” Just in case we do not understand what Jesus is alluding to the narrator of the story intrudes to tell us: “He said this to indicate the death he was to die.” This journey to glory, to God’s energy and power and presence and gravitas - God’s ‘kabod’, is a journey through death to a new life on the other side. It is a journey in which Jesus draws us to himself through the same cross-shaped path he must traverse.
This is the way ahead. It awaits us at the font and the table. Today we near the destination of our Lenten pilgrimage and prepare ourselves for the walk through the week of God's Passion - God's suffering - to Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Today we pause at the font to renew our commitments as followers of Jesus. Here those who have been baptised return to the font to recall our primary identity as disciples - apprentices - of Jesus. As the sign of the cross is sealed once more on our forehead we are reminded by Paul: “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Walk with Christ in newness of life. Newness of life on the other side of death. Newness of life. It waits at the table. Newness of life in the kingdom of God where none go hungry, where death has been defeated, where we come home from our wandering, home to the welcome table, no longer orphans, now children of God.
At this table we covenant. Promises are made, promises binding the family to God and to one another. Sometimes the promises go unspoken. Today we recall and renew the covenant. We speak the promises. We remember we are no longer our own. We remember we have died, we are dying, we wish to die to the myth of independence as the way of eternal life. Our new life is interdependent on God and on one another. Burdens are no longer carried alone. The mission of God’s suffering love in the world is participatory. It takes all we have and are. It is life on the other side of dying to trying to make something of ourselves. It is the eternal life - the good life - of participation in God’s cruciform love for the earth and its creatures, for the lost and the least, for me and, yes, for you. It is the new life Jesus invites us to live here, now as followers, disciples, apprentices, servants - which is to say - as ministers of Jesus Christ in the world. Friends, in the words of the service of covenant renewal: “Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.”