Sir, we wish to see Jesus. (John 12:21)
Seeing Jesus will only happen through serving him.
We see and experience nature all around us. In these observations and experiences we learn that there are certain patterns in the natural world and these are developed into principles. The patterns of days turning into nights, seasons following seasons, planets in their orbits, human and animals with their bodies growing in symmetric proportions, all point us to consider the existence of a Creator. The Creator who masterminded these patterns and how they fit together makes us realize that mind is vastly superior to anything we know here on earth. These patterns are necessary and have been named by humans into some principles on which we depend.
One of the principles we see in operation this time of year is “new life coming out of death”. It took the death or “dying back” of the plants, trees, flowers and shrubs last fall, and having them remain dormant all winter, so we can now see them seemingly come back to life this spring. If spring ever gets here. It will; and it will because these natural principles are laws on which we can rely. In a way, our lives continue because of them.
Some of these same principles we see in nature are true in the spiritual world. New life must come out of death. It is a principle that is deeply part of our Christian religion. We know that unless there is the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, then there is no forgiveness of sins and no gift of eternal life. Part of being a child of God and living in Christ is going to involve death. If death is part of the Christian’s life, and God intended it that way, then there is a way that we should see death in a positive light.
Graham Leonard, the Bishop of London from 1981 to 1991, illustrated in a sermon how fearful we can be of death. He pointed out that we try to do everything to extend our lives here in the world. We cover up, as best we can, the aging and dying process. Some of us don’t like to even talk about it, plan for it, or acknowledge our deaths in any way. Yet, we know that as Christians our lives depend on death if we are ever going to know the nearer presence of our Lord. Our true life, our real life is in the perfect presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but we must abide by the spiritual principle of new life through death to get there.
I like the way the Proper Preface for a Requiem in our Book of Common Prayer describes this principle for the Christian, “for to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body doth lie in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place in the heavens.” In other words, this death is a necessary part of the life we live as Christians. We can be comforted by this and maybe begin to see death revealed in a more positive and hopeful light.
This spiritual principle does not only apply to the end of our earthly lives. For us as Christians the principle of new life out of death is part of our spiritual growth and development even now. What is the goal of our spiritual lives, but to grow closer to Jesus now, to grow more into the person he wants us to be so that in the end of our earthly lives we can be united perfectly with him, his father and the holy ghost. The goal can really be put in the same words that the Greeks inquired of Philip right from today’s Gospel, Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Isn’t that what we need to be about? We are to spend this part of our Christian life growing more and more in the spirit through worship, prayer, service, and bringing more people to know who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
This spiritual growth will only be accomplished partly under the new life through death principle. We have to set aside the parts of ourselves that are centered on ourselves. There has to be a death in us of those things that we have done, said and thought that separate us from loving Jesus and serving him as we should. We can let the part of ourselves that desires to love God be squelched by our selfish wills. The new life, the full life, the life of love and joy that God wants for us can come through by looking outwardly and serving Jesus. I’m reminded of hearing those words of John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address, Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. Try to offer yourselves for the good of your country, not for your own good. For the Christian, offer yourself in service to God, even as Jesus offered himself for the good of the world.
This new life of growth and faith cannot be done by ourselves. It can only be done with Jesus. The very man, who is our perfect example to follow, is also the very man and very God who will give us the help, the aid, the grace to follow him. It will take the death of the son of God, that ultimate form of service, to bring us a new life of grace so we can be strengthened to serve him. That’s why Jesus actually states our spiritual principle when approached by Philip and Andrew; rather than giving permission for the company of Greeks to see him, Jesus’ answer is, The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
Jesus’ answer must have really shocked Philip and Andrew. They have asked him if the company of Greeks can see him and Jesus’ answer is not “yes” or “no”. His answer is a prediction of his crucifixion. It’s as if someone has asked to borrow your car and you give him your funeral plans. It seems to make no sense, or the answer evokes confusion, shock and even anger. Jesus is saying, “if you, or they, or the world want to see me, they will have to see, know and believe this suffering, this death, and this resurrection.” Those events make a life of service possible and it is only through service that we will see Jesus more clearly.
It is possible to see Jesus. At least to grow closer to him by serving him. What he accomplishes on the cross breaks through sin and death and allows God’s grace to strengthen us for our lives of service. Jesus declares that he must go through this approaching period of suffering and to fulfill the father’s will. That is to glorify him, so the whole world can be saved. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. He said this to show by what death he was to die. The glories of Christ’s death, Resurrection, and Ascension are always present, always with us, to strengthen us, and forgive us even now.
Since we have this grace of strength to serve him the question becomes for us, “What do I do to serve him so I can more clearly see him?” Do I worship him as I should? Do I give myself in service to His Body, the Church? Is my prayer life a source of strength and comfort for me so I can know him better? In whatever ways we give up our time and our gifts in service to him it will be in keeping with Our Lord’s teaching theme from the Gospel of dying to self and having a new life closer to him. I’m reminded of the thirteenth-century prayer of Saint Richard of Chichester: Day by day, dear Lord, of thee, three things I pray, to see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly, day by day.
One of the best acts of service for us will be to walk with Jesus through these central events of his earthly life in Holy Week. We begin those dramatic events next Sunday with Palm Sunday. Celebrating Holy Week will mean uniting ourselves to him as he gives us the Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, dies for our sins on Good Friday, and we wait and watch for his return and rising at the Great Vigil and on Easter Day. Remember, the benefits and graces of these events are eternally present. They are as present now as they were at that first Holy Week. Our minds, hearts, and souls are spiritually united to them each time we celebrate them. We join ourselves to them in faith and, when we come through them, we have the possibility of knowing him and seeing him more clearly and maybe with a whole new light, and receive a new and more glorious vision. So, beginning next Sunday, picture yourselves as part of that company of truth-seeking Greeks, who approached Philip. Only this time come to your church and declare, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.