We Wish to See Jesus
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Some Greeks approached Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). These outsiders ask the disciples whether they too might be included in the fellowship with Jesus and with God. At some point, it’s a question we all ask, not once but probably many times, “Am I included? Do I belong here? Is it possible God wants something to do with me?” We wish to see Jesus.
The church answers this question every Sunday in Word and Sacrament. Each week we approach the church doors needing to hear an answer to this question. Our wayfaring hearts search to find home again through shared gospel stories, hymns and prayers, ancient rites and rhythms, and in the particular fellowship we find here in each other. We need to see Jesus.
Every Sunday flings wide the door into the divine life with God in Christ Jesus. But one week, in particular, takes us to the heart of the Christian message. Today, we stand on the cusp of Holy Week. Next Sunday we begin early. This year we step off at 10:15 to parade into the neighborhood with palm branches in our hands following after Jesus heading into Jerusalem. We return here and at the usual time 10:30, we hear again the full story of his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and shameful death. Whenever we recite the Apostles’ Creed we say he “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again…” For Holy Week, we slow down to walk with Jesus and the disciples in real time for the Three Days. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter join the rhythm of our daily lives with the ancient story of Christ Jesus. We move together with him from death into life by walking the way of his cross. We do it because we need to see Jesus.
These five Sundays in Lent we have had heard God make five covenants with us. Five promises that embolden us to confront our illusions, our frailties, and faults so we may turn to God and be healed. Noah, Abraham, the Ten Commandments, the serpent in the wilderness and today, the prophet Jeremiah, walk us into an encounter with God’s promise to accompany us even in the deepest, most intimate inward struggles of mind and heart. We borrow God’s courage and hope to confront the realities of life in preparation for the radical new beginning of resurrection and transformation God is preparing for us this Easter.
These promises of God are like water on dry ground, bringing forth life out of death. God’s promises are like a mighty fortress to surround and protect us when life threatens to beat us down in one of its many storms. God says, ‘See my rainbow and know that I fight, not against you, but with you.’ ‘If you count the stars in the night or the grains of sand beside the sea, they do not exceed the gifts with which I will bless you.’ ‘While you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, look upon me and live. Look upon me and be healed. Look to me to be forgiven and to learn how to forgive.’ We who long to see Jesus hear God say, I see Jesus in you. I am with you always. Take up your cross and follow me.
The Lord God has made this new covenant with us –not like the one that we broke. But this covenant is written within us. We eat and drink it at the Lord’s table. We bath in it at our baptism. It is a covenant not written on stone tablets or on paper in a book. Instead, it is written upon our heart. ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’ (Jeremiah 31:33). I promise.
By his death, Jesus taught us how to live. St. Francis of Assisi summed up the gospel in this way, “it is in giving that we receive; it is in dying that we are born again.” It seems counter-intuitive. But it is the way of things. Like seed scattered upon the earth, Christ is revealed in us as we dedicate ourselves to loving one another as Christ loved us.
900 years ago, St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) taught through music, art, poetry, medicine, gardening, and reflections on nature to see Jesus in creation. For Hildegard, nature was not merely a scenic backdrop for human activity. Creation is a full participant in human transformation. The outer world is an accurate mirror to guide exploration of our true inner world. The Christian Sacraments ultimately lead us to see that the whole world is a sacrament! It changes the way we see everything when we learn to see Jesus in all things.
Jesus said, “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” (John 12:24). This saying of Jesus was so central to his mission and message that it occurs in all four gospels (and twice in Luke). It is the life-giving way of the cross.
A seed sown in soil does not literally die when germinates; but it does become something other than a seed, as the new plant begins to take form, the husk is burst, and the stored nutrients become part of the growing plant’s body. The seed must cease to be a seed in order to become a plant; ceasing to be one thing in order to bear fruit as a new thing is a kind of death and resurrection, a perishing and re-formation as a new creation in God.
At Immanuel, I see proof of this when I see Christ in you through outreach to our neighbors in beautiful sacred music. I see Christ in you through the invitation to neighborhood children and youth to come and learn, and by extension, through our partnership with the Families Together Cooperative Nursery School. As we strive together to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace, we who come each week to see Jesus might find it strange that others encounter Christ through us but then this is exactly what Jesus promised. It is a truth rooted in the nature of all things.
Joined together in the Body of Christ, God’s self-revelation in Jesus is being made real again in our lives. The husk of our old life is being opened to become nutrients for the growing life of Christ alive and at work in our lives and the world. Look, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17) Thanks be to God.