(John 12: 20-33)
I just want things to go back to normal. I just want my life back. How many times have you heard someone say something like that? How many times have you said it either out loud or to yourself? Twelve months ago the Covid-19 pandemic upended our lives in ways we didn’t think imaginable. I feel as if we’ve all gone through the Five Stages of Grief. First, we denied (denial) that something like this was possible and refused to accept the fact that it was real. Second, we got angry (anger) and lashed out at whoever we thought was responsible for what was unfairly happening to us as a people and a nation. Then, some of us entered the bargaining phase; “okay, what can we do to end this thing?” God, stop this thing and I promise I’ll do better. When it appeared that bargaining wasn’t going to work, we got depressed (depression) as we realized how helpless we were to control what was happening all around us as we tried to deal with the losses we were experiencing in many forms. And fifth, we came to accept our reality (acceptance) that from here on out things would be different, there would be a new normal, we would never return to the way it used to be. But you know, a new normal is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, its’ helped us understand how important the scientific community is to the health and welfare of our planet. Its’ made some politicians realize just how important their duty of governing “for the people” really is and that partisanship can be an obstacle to good governing and the welfare of the people. Its’ made us realize how fleeting life can be and that we need to make the best of the time and resources we have not only for our good but for the good of all as we live in a global community.
And it’s that new normal that the Apostle John is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. Jesus was bringing the new covenant, the new normal. The old covenant wasn’t cutting it and it was time for a change. The hour had come.
Now Jerusalem was full of people who had traveled long distances for the great festival. Most were Jews but there were many God-fearing Gentiles who also came to celebrate the God of Israel and the Passover. And John tells us that among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks who approached Philip and asked to see Jesus. This is significant because these Greeks had not only come to celebrate Passover; they had come to see this Jesus who was preaching something new, a new way of relating to God, his message was already resonating with non-Jews. Jesus was drawing a lot of attention and people were flocking to hear what he had to say. His message was different from what they were hearing from the religious leaders of the day who seemed intent on maintaining the status quo, keeping things normal insuring their comfortable existence, their normal. Jesus’ message seemed to be fulfilling some ancient prophesy that they may have learned when they were younger at the feet of their local rabbi who was teaching them the Law of Moses and the Jewish way of doing things as they learned the ways of God. The prophets of old were probably covered like Jeremiah who in Jeremiah 31 reported what God had told him in verses 33, 34: But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah was prophesizing that a change was coming, a new covenant, a new normal way of relating to God that would be written on their hearts. Their relationships with God would be personal.
Jesus says that the time is coming for him, the Son of Man, to be glorified. He announces that the hour has come, it is time. This is a bold statement to make publicly as not only is he claiming to be the Messiah, he’s forecasting a coming change in the glorification of God. His date with destiny. He says: 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. Just as wheat must fall to the ground and die in order to produce more wheat, so must Jesus die in order to glorify God and spread the Good News of the coming kingdom of God. This is the confusing part of the message for the disciples who are having a difficult time wrapping their heads around Jesus’ cryptic messages. To their way of thinking, if Jesus dies, the movement is over, the Pharisees win and things go back to normal, which only works if you’re a member of the privileged class. Surely this can’t be it. To further complicate things Jesus says: Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Here is where I think I can identify with the disciples who also didn’t go to seminary. Everything they learned about God they learned in the cheap seats, by going to synagogue. I think they could have been just as confused as me at this statement. It would have been so much easier if Jesus had said something like: “Look fellas, you have to be so committed to living for me that you hate your own life by comparison. If you commit to laying aside your striving for advantage, security, and pleasure, you will be able to serve God lovingly and freely, nothing will get in your way as it will lose its’ importance. Release control of your life and transfer control to me and I’ll guarantee you eternal life and genuine joy.” Now that I can get my head around.
Jesus then says to them: Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. He’s saying that if you’re going to commit to him and follow him to where he is going, if you’ll do that, you will also be where he is, with the Father, and God the Father will honor those who choose to serve him. Again, this can be more than a little unsettling as it sounds like Jesus is proposing some sort of a suicide pact as he predicts his own death. Surely there’s more to it. And then Jesus reveals his human side when he says: Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say; Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. He knows this is why he has come to the appointed hour. The climax, the appointed hour, his date with destiny is coming and he is steeling his resolve. This is the crux of the issue, the point where the old covenant ends, and the new covenant begins. The old way of honoring and glorifying God is gone and the new normal is born.
At that point, a voice came from heaven saying: I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again. The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder, and others said it was an angel who had spoken to him. Jesus answered: This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. I guess, for lack of a better description, this was a heavenly Amen, “you can say that again” affirmation, putting God’s seal of approval on what Jesus had just said. Jesus tells them that God’s judgment is now upon the world and the ruler of this world, Satan, will be driven out. Change is coming, the way things used to be will be no more. There will be a new normal.
And Jesus says that when he is lifted up from the earth, men will be drawn to him. John says this was to show what kind of death Jesus would experience through being lifted off the ground and crucified on a Roman cross. But I think it also means the ascension, the beginning of the new normal. All the pieces of this foretold new covenant would come together for those who have been waiting in earnest for the Messiah, a change for the better.
And this is Jesus’ message to us this morning. The new covenant, the new normal has arrived. And like the seeds of wheat that have to die to produce more wheat, we have to die to our old self, our old ways of doing things, and embrace the new normal, the new covenant between us and God the Father brought to us by Jesus Christ. And that’s our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, to bring as many people as we possibly can to the new normal, the new way of following Jesus Christ to the Father, and a life spent in eternity with the Father and the Son.
Please pray with me.
Gracious and loving Father, this is a day of new beginnings, a time to remember and move on, a time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone. Yes Father, it is by the life and death of Jesus Christ, your mighty spirit, now as then, that you have made for us a new world of difference, as faith and hope are born again. Because you are our God and we are your people and your law is written on our hearts, Christ is alive and goes before us to show and share what love can do. This is a day of new beginnings, and you God, have made all things new. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.