A refection for Lent V Passion Sunday 17th March 2024 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Here is a young man, who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He was raised in another village. He worked in his adoptive father’s carpenter’s shop until he was 30, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held any public office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to university. He never set foot inside a big city. He only travelled 2000 miles from where he was born. He never did any of the things that we might associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself. 

 While he was a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was given over to his enemies. He went though the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on Earth, his coat. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.     Anon.

When one looks at Jesus’ life in those stark terms it could appear that he didn’t do very much. His life was pretty unremarkable until his trial and death. One traumatic week out of 33 years of life. Not much really, and he would have been forgotten had he not risen from the dead!

You can read back into the Old Testament prophesies about the hoped for Messiah to gain something more glorious about Jesus’ life but you can only do this with the knowledge of hindsight. And, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews can only write as they do well after the resurrection of Jesus and many years of pondering on what that event actually meant. Jesus never saw himself as a High Priest, all he sought to do was the will of God. 

Yet, Jesus achieved and did remarkable things even if at first sight they seem pretty small. There were other preachers and agitators who probably achieved more before their deaths than Jesus did; but it was his death and resurrection that sets him well apart from anyone else in history. When we look back on Jesus’ life though the lens of the resurrection we can begin to see, I think, how he was given the strength to do the things he did and how we too might be given strength to do things we did not think were possible as well.

Today’s Gospel reading from John 12 gives us a few clues. Jesus knows full well that he cannot be saved from his fate and he tells his disciples so:

“… what shall I say: Father save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.”       John 12:27b

We know also from the other Gospel accounts that Jesus did wonder if he had the strength to do what was asked by God of him. Think of his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; ‘How can I do this?’; Is this really what I must do?’ Until as St.Luke tells us he says; “Let your will be done, not mine.” (Luke 27)

All of us at some time in our lives come to a point when we have to say to God; “Let your will be done.” It can be a difficult and painful journey to that point and an upsetting place to be in but it can also be liberating. For once we can truly say and really mean what we say in the words; “Let your will be done” we leave behind our old selfish natures and fully open ourselves to the will of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. 

Perhaps it is Jesus’ imagery of the grain of wheat becoming a crop of corn which holds the key to our understanding of what surrendering to God truly means:

“ … 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 20:24

The ancient understanding of the process of germination may to our ears today seem a bit confused, the seed does not die it changes. By ‘dying’ or germination one single gain of wheat becomes an ear of corn with many grains, these in their turn form part of a larger harvest - from the one comes the many. By dying to self-will we open ourselves to the possibility of God achieving much more in us than we might do on our own. Remember Jesus submitted himself to his Father’s will and literally changed the world. An anonymous writer wrote:

“… centuries have passed, and today he (Christ) is the central figure of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark, when I say that all the armies that have ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that have ever sat, and all the kings that have ever resigned, put together, have not affected the life upon this Earth as has that one solitary life.”

When we can say ‘Yes’ to God and submit to his will; we stop being solitary beings and are transformed from being like single grains of wheat into part of a much larger crop and harvest. Our efforts unite with each other, and God, to achieve more than we could ever achieve on our own and in doing so we build the Kingdom of God here on Earth - TOGETHER. 

The life of one man, Jesus changed the world for the better. His passion to try and do his Father’s will was transformative and the effects of that passion still reverberate throughout Creation today and will do so for all time. But, it is not just his passion and energy that continues to change things today and tomorrow but ours as well when we join with him in seeking to do the will of our God and Creator.