A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John:
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
‘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.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement 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.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Here ends the reading.
Today is passion Sunday, when, as Jesus says in today’s gospel: the hour has come. We’re now truly on the journey towards Good Friday and the readings today have Jesus telling us some of the significance of the cross he’s travelling towards. When the religious and roman authorities condemned Jesus to a cross, they were judging him. Judging him as lower than a criminal; a rebel fit only for the stripping away of his dignity and then his life by the most public and vicious means at their disposal.
In case we think that the world that judged Jesus is gone think again. That world that saw him as having no value or even as a threat to the values of the world is still our world. Whenever we get the coronavirus under control, we’ll have to deal with the problem of mass unemployment. Soon the blame might shift off the shoulders of this natural event and government responses to it, and firmly onto the shoulders of those who have no job, as has happened in the near past. People might be blamed for not being smart; valuable or hardworking enough to find a job when in fact they simply lost it in a pandemic. The world still judges in the harshest terms those like Jesus, who have no place in the marketplace of power and economics and particularly punishes those who question it. We’re still a society and a world that makes people bear crosses, often through no fault of their own. Some see Jesus going towards the cross and can see only shame, dishonour and devastation. But how does God judge Jesus and those he suffers alongside – the poor and marginalised?
Jesus tells us that God views the cross and all it represents quite differently from the world which put him there. It’s the cross that Jesus says will bring glory, honour to him and to his Father. We Christians who put up large crosses on grand building or wear crosses around our necks clearly think about this sacrifice differently. Not as being a mistake to be avoided, but a path to be lived – the same one travelled by Jesus. Jesus on the cross reaches the highest point of what it is to be human and divine – to give all your life away for love of people. The cross shows that God honours those who put faith, justice and love for others before self-interest. Jesus identifies fully, even to death, with anyone being made to bear a cross by the rich, powerful and self-interested systems that run things. For that reason, the cross goes from being a shameful spectacle, to being the ultimate expression of God’s love for and presence with any who suffer and struggle. God is with them, rather than the systems or people that put those burdens on their shoulders. We’ve heard how the world judges the cross; and how God does; but we too are called to come to a view. The time is now. Do we see the cross as the part of the story to be quickly passed over, fast forwarding to the resurrection, or do we see it as the love of God fully expressed in a human life, a human life lived for others, that we must copy.
Let us pray for our world – the crosses it inflicts and the crosses it bears.
Crucified Lord, your cross makes you present in all human pain and loss. Continue to uphold and strengthen all who have lost loved ones and livelihoods because of this pandemic. Save from shame and despair all who seek work, and help them to judge themselves the way you see them – with eternal worth and care.
Lord of justice, your cross challenges the world’s view of good and evil; right; wrong; success and failure. Help our human institutions of government and community to reflect your cross, burdening themselves with the care of the poor and the outcast, rather than the punishment of the innocent. Bless and protect all who speak out and organise against systems of poverty and oppression, wherever they are found, and help us your church to do the same. All of these prayers we ask in your name, Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen