You will recall that the physicist Stephen Hawking died this week. For our time he has been an iconic figure for many, in large part because of his brilliant mind, a modern Einstein, but also because of his being so incapacitated by a motor neuron disease. Nonetheless he seemed about to unlock the secrets of the universe. It may be that the stark contrast between his brilliantly capacitated mind and his terribly incapacitated body made him an icon for the triumph of the mind over the limitations of the body. Author of A Brief History of Time.
At the heart of our faith is another icon: the broken body on the cross, who will rise from the dead; the incomprehensible proposition of the man who is God; the one who holds the secrets of the universe, but dies for us; and shows us how to be free. The Lord of Time!
The question is not entirely rhetorical. It reflects the contemporary reality of our society where church, religion, faith, bible are all under suspicion, questioned, mocked and downright out of fashion. This is a time when the need of evangelism is not in question but the means for evangelism is. How might we as the people of this Cathedral in the centre of this city evangelise?
I don’t have the answer – but let’s be clear about contemporary reality – it is not all benign liberalism and light. Our humanity is under question: abuse is real; youth suicide is real; pornography is real; materialism and consumerism are real; addictions, exploitation, despair and desperation are real.
There are real questions about what it means to be human and what sort of society we seek to be.
Technology and our knowledge of the world have both advanced; it may even be that we have changed as humans, and are still evolving in a changing and technologically connected universe, but who and what we follow remains a real question. It shapes who we are, and who we may become. I keep remembering Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician who so clearly recognised the limits of our reason, famously saying: “Our heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing”.
In our gospel this morning, time is everything: we encounter a moment where time and eternity intersect. Some visiting Greeks, Gentiles, who tell Philip, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’. This is the moment of declaration: for so long in the gospel in the gospel, Jesus has deferred and said his time is not yet, but now, at last Jesus declares ’The hour has come’: at last the great purpose for which he has come is unveiled.
‘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.
That image of the grain of wheat – we find it echoed in the seed parables of the other gospels – is a simple truth. The grain must fall into the earth and be buried. Its external husk has to be broken open for the life within to come out.
Jesus taught consistently and repeatedly that the way to life is through self-sacrifice and the path to glory will be found only in his crucifixion. With these Greeks coming to see Jesus means that the hour to be glorified has arrived; now is the time for words to be put into action.
‘We would see Jesus.’ ‘The hour has come’ ‘Follow me!’ That sequence is at the heart of Passion Sunday.
The same sequence is the call of God on us – now. The hour has come! We who follow Jesus are the ones who must show him – and yes, I know, our hearts break at the thought, - how can we ever hope to do this? We know ourselves better than that. We know we cannot, but – and this is the secret of the gospel – the Holy Spirit can, and will. God, working in us and through us will reveal Jesus.
Praying is a slow dying. In prayer you give up something of yourself and appropriate something of the sphere of the Divine in a continuous cycle of dying and resurrection. In prayer the growing soul leans toward the Light as a seedling leans toward the sun’s path.
That is the hope that drives us Sunday by Sunday to seek Jesus (in the sacrament) and to let the Spirit of God work in us and form us.
That is the hope of Lent – that we will indeed grow in holiness, deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. In a world that ‘would see Jesus’, that is our task and our calling.
God our Father, we want to see Jesus, to lose ourselves in him, that we might find ourselves in you.