I am still reeling at the destruction of Notre Dame through the fire yesterday. That cathedral was a symbol of God’s presence in France, and its burning reverberates powerfully with me. The burned church evokes images of Christ’s death on the cross. Like the cathedral, Christ is damaged and destroyed. Its devastation leaves an empty shell. We are shocked, dismayed. How is this possible?
But in John 12:20-36, Jesus talks about his own death, not as something to be avoided, and not even as something inevitable, but as something necessary, intended, perhaps even desirable. He uses the analogy of a seed, that must die in order to produce more seeds.
And he also says that we who follow him, must similarly die; that if we love this life on earth too much, we’re in trouble; that we need to hold on to it just lightly. Instead, if we follow him, through death, we will be with him in glory.
He raises the question of what we have to die to today. Of what in our lives needs to burn to the ground, so that something new can spring forth.
Feature image: Interior of Notre Dame following the fire on 15 April 2019, CNN.
On the evening of that first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to the disciples (excluding Judas and Thomas) in the upper room, where he showed them his wounded hands and feet. John describes this in John 20:19-23. This narrative is followed by the story of Jesus’ engagement with Thomas. And John ends the chapter with a reflection on his version of the Gospel – that he has selected from the numerous stories about Jesus these few, whose purpose it to facilitate our belief in Jesus, so that we may enjoy the fullness of Life.
John’s purpose in the John 20 narrative is to guide the church towards the end of the first century to be a resurrection church – a church that is centred on the risen Christ, empowered by Holy Spirit and focused on Christ’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation. But this is hard when you are 60 or more years away from the living Christ Jesus. Because of this distance in time (most of the eye witnesses had passed on) John’s message is of particular relevance for us who live two thousand years distant.
This is quite a long sermon for me and our parish – sorry about that! But I hope it moves quite briskly and provides some food for thought about a fascinating and rich passage in the Gospel narrative. To assist with the denseness of the message, I provided my congregation with a slip of paper with the nine points (yes, nine!) written down. Here they are:
This is the start of Sunday worship for Christians – resurrection Sunday.
Jesus’ body is still physical, but also transformed – it does not conform to the laws of nature.
Christ stands in the middle of us, and is the centre focus of Christian life and worship.
Jesus’ presence bring peace (Shalom) and is his central message.
Jesus’ transformed body retains the wounds in his hands and side, and are assimilated into the triune Godhead at the ascension, so that there is now woundedness within the being of God.
Jesus commissions his disciples (including us) to be his presence in the world – when people see us, they should see Christ.
Jesus imparts Holy Spirit to us – we have Holy Spirit in us, not as power and gifts, but as the relational presence of God within us.
Today is the first Sunday after Easter and we centre our thoughts on the resurrection and what it means for us. In John’s Gospel, resurrection is virtually synonymous with Life, and so this sermon is about the Resurrection Life. Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. He also says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.
I am including the readings from John (New International Version) so that you have them readily at hand.