The time has come?

240317 Lent 5
Jeremiah 31:31-34 – PSALM 119.9-16 – Hebrews 5:5-10 – John 12:20-33

‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be Glorified’
It was obvious that something was afoot when some strangers from Greece, who were in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, asked to see Jesus.

True, they could have heard about him after the commotion of his boisterous entry into Jerusalem, which in the Gospel of John is the passage immediately before the one we read today. After all, that would have been enough to create some buzz, to get this young preacher from Galilee trending, as he was finally reaching the Holy City after quite a journey.

Not that for Jesus this was the only high-profile event of the preceding days. Shortly before that, he had brought his friend Lazarus back to life, and attracted the attention of the crowds around him, so much so that many more believed in him – and presumably shared that story with all who would listen.

There were those who were not quite so pleased with what Jesus was up to. The religious authority of the time, the Pharisees, anxious about loss of control, and for whom this was – if not the last straw – at least a warning sign that their power, their beloved institutions and customs might be imminently threatened.

Caiaphas the High Priest had already suggested that it was ‘better for one man to die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ (John 11.50). An ominous threat.
Knowing that he was under surveillance, Jesus had tried to keep a low profile while many wondered whether he might come to Jerusalem for the Passover. Meanwhile, the chief priests were ready with an arrest warrant for him.

Before making it to the Holy City, Jesus made another stop to visit his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, creating another commotion. We may remember the powerfully charged symbolic anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary of with costly perfume often used for the anointing of the dead.
How Jesus managed to make any kind of entry into Jerusalem under those circumstances is in itself miraculous, and in great part due to the popular acclaim with which he is greeted.

Great crowds congregate with palm branches to welcome him with the joyous sound of a word starting with A we traditionally do not say in Lent. Jesus enters the city, and the crowds disperse, further spreading the word.
And so these foreigners now want to see him – Greeks of all things. Gentiles.

They speak to Philip, the Galilean, who passes the message on to Andrew, before they both go to Jesus. After that, we are told nothing further about whether the Greeks actually get to meet Jesus.

But their request is the key to what Jesus says next:
‘The hour has come for the son of Man to be glorified’.

But why is it that Jesus’s hour has finally come when until now, he had made it clear that his hour had not yet come – in his response to his mother at Cana (2.4), when he was previously teaching in Jerusalem (7.30), and when he was preaching in the treasury of the temple (8.20).

Things have changed radically for Jesus by now. Opposition to him has grown considerably because he is a threat to those in power. But so has the number of his followers, especially since the raising of Lazarus. His increasing following compounds this sense of threat.

The hour has come because the officials are planning for his death. But it has also come because of his success, the crowds seeking him which could easily look for another doing more extraordinary signs the next day.

In Holy week, as we relive Jesus’ passion, we will be confronted head on by the fickleness of humankind, and perhaps by our own.

We will also be confronted by the utter humanity of Jesus who, though he may have astonished others by his divine powers, still undergoes all the emotions, fears, anxieties and pain that human beings share in common.

His high priesthood, as described in the letter to the Hebrews, is hewn out of the life to which he has been called by God, a life of prayer, intercession and experience, a life of adulation and a life of pains and tragedies. In Jesus, God becomes truly human.

And humankind is able to fully know God.

God who had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah as we heard this morning: ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on your hearts; and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. I will forgive your iniquity, and remember your sin no more’. A loving God who time and time again seeks to steer human beings in the ways that give a fulfilled life to those who will listen.

‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be Glorified’
Having sought to fulfil God’s purpose of spreading love and justice in the world and of speaking truth to power, the destiny of Jesus unfolds from this point on in the way we know. Arrest, crucifixion. This could be the end. From this side of the story, we know it is not. And we will live this out again at Easter.

As we look around the world today, we have many causes to fear that the end is facing us everywhere we look. The continuing rise of populism used by politicians to retain power as many countries face elections. The effect of social media on our ability to get to objective Truth. The continuing threats to the sustainability of our planet in the ongoing search for more profits by transnational corporations despite ever growing signs of the effects of climate change.

This afternoon at 4 pm, the Cathedral is hosting a commemorative event for Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist who died under suspicious circumstances in February while imprisoned in Russia. Navalny had already survived a poisoning in Moscow four years ago, and yet felt he had to return to his homeland Russia in order to live out his destiny.

Navalny, like many who have given their lives for the good of the world, is an example to us of what it might mean to follow Jesus all the way to the cross today.

It can be easy to think that bad things only happen out there, away from our sight in lands where democracy does not mean what we think it means to us.

But systems of collusion between authorities in power to quash dissent have existed around the world since the world began. Jesus fought against an exploitative autocratic imperial system in his time, and many have followed in his example since.

In this last week of Lent, we remember:
‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be Glorified’

It was time in the particular juncture of the story of Jesus as we read in the gospel of John today.

But this hour of glorification, which could not come without self-sacrifice and death, has extended ever since. And it is still happening now, if we will take on the baton.

We all have different skills, gifts and talents, and have different levels of energy, courage and determination. But as baptised Christians we have all made promises that compel us to act in the world in order to contribute to the common good, in order to glorify God.

In baptism, we have vowed to reject the evil powers of this world, to turn to Christ, and serve our neighbours as ourselves.

In this final week of Lent, in a year when 80 countries – more than half the world population – will be called to vote to elect new leaders – as Russians are today – I invite you to think and pray about the ways in which God might be calling you to speak and act to safeguard peace, freedom and justice in your community and around the world.

I would like to finish with an inspiring quote from a sermon by Desmond Tutu, delivered in London in 2004:
“When Jesus spoke of being lifted up on the cross he said :
‘I, if I be lifted up will draw..’ – he didn’t say ‘I will draw some’– he said ‘I, if I be lifted up will draw ALL – draw all to me to hold them’, all of us drawn into the divine embrace that excludes no-one – black, yellow, white, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, male, female, young, old, gay, lesbian, so-called straight – yes it IS radical. All, all,
ALL belong…”.


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