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Lent 5 March 18, 2018 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
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LENT 5  Year B 
Jeremiah  31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
 
Christ Episcopal Church,
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, March 18, 2018
The Rev. Janet Campbell
 
 
The Gospel readings assigned for Lent
are arranged not in chronological order
but, we might say, in theological order . . .
 
providing, as we draw ever nearer Holy Week,
 a growing revelation
of the nature of Jesus
and the meaning of his Passion.
 
Palm Sunday
isn’t until next week,
but the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
finds Jesus already
in Jerusalem
for the feast of the Passover.
 
He has ridden
down the Mount of Olives
accompanied by his disciples
to be greeted by a crowd
waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!”
                   as if he were some kind of king.
 
Imagine, just for a moment,
we are part of that crowd,
swept up in the excitement
with all the other Passover pilgrims,
         
wanting to get closer to this
charismatic
Jesus of Nazareth
healer, teacher, worker of miracles . . .
 
rumored to have fed over 5,000 people
with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish,
rumored to have raised Lazarus
from the dead
just over the hill in Bethany.
 
We approach one of his disciples.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
 
Imagine following Philip and Andrew
          to Jesus,
shouldering through the crowd,
until suddenly we are standing
face to face with him . . .
 
a pensive man
speaking enigmatically
          of his “hour”
          of his “glorification,”
by which, we slowly realize,
          he means his necessary death.
 
“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.”
 
This may not be the Jesus
we hoped to see . . .
or the message we wanted to hear . . .
 
“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 we realize
that engagement with Jesus
requires engagement with the mystery
of suffering and death.
 
Do we really want to see Jesus?
 
We have an image of Jesus with us today –
some of you may remember it
          from the last time I brought it here . . .
 
an engraving
printed on linen cloth
     that is brittle and fragile with age.
 
You have a copy of it
          in your bulletin.
 

 
The cloth is too-tightly trimmed,
carelessly cut away from something larger.
 

A crumbling wax seal clings to the
lower left corner –
and a title across the bottom
tells us (in Latin) that we are looking at
“The true sacred image of the face
of the Lord Jesus Christ
in Rome, the Holy Basilica of  
          Saint Peter in the Vatican
     religiously observed by the holy council.”
 
And in tiny print “published 1879.”
 
The true image of Jesus
in a very Victorian rendering,
a gaunt face of suffering
          floating on a fringed fabric
                   draped in front of a picture frame.
 
         
I came upon this picture
years ago
at a flea market
in New York City –
in a box of many and varied
          so-called “works of art.”
 
My reaction to it was visceral,
a feeling of revulsion . . .
something to do with those
thick, elongated, dangling drops
of tears and sweat and blood and saliva;
the bulbous forehead,
and that three-pointed beard . . .
 
 
But there was something about
          this image of Jesus
that tugged at me
though I was not yet a Christian.
 
I was a collector of curiosities
intrigued by
the printing on cloth,
the wax seal,
the fraying edges and too-close cropping
(there’s a hidden history there) –
 
Besides all that, the price was right.
 
For years the picture languished
in the art file
where I keep unframed posters and prints –
 
Every once in a while,
I would come across it
and think,
“I should do something with this thing . . .”
and then,
that same queasy feeling
in the pit of my stomach,
I would carefully put it back
in the drawer.
 
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
 
 
Then,
when it seemed a war called Desert Storm
was about to begin in Iraq –
 
seeking some relief
from that awful prospect,
 
I decided to spend my day off
framing some original children’s book art
from my publishing days.
 
Out of my art file
came a pen and ink drawing of a little girl
stretching on tiptoe to offer
an apple to a horse;
a pastel of an elf reading to
four pearl-gray field mice
in a woodland glade,
a watercolor of Scuffy the Tugboat –
 
and then, this image surfaced . . .
 
I had by then become a Christian
and I thought,
this is the picture for this time –
not a horse and a girl,
or four mice and an elf,
or a tugboat . . .
 
As I considered which matte and frame
would best bring out the qualities
of the image,
          (searching past the surface details
I had found so off-putting)
I saw the Jesus I had been avoiding all along
          in this face of awful grief . . .
 
the Jesus who suffers with the
suffering of every human being,
         
and asks us to do the same.
 
 
“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.”
 
This face of Jesus
is the face of war,
of terrorism,
of hatred and fear,
of poverty and homelessness,
racism and injustice and oppression . . .
 
of school shootings
and political cowardice . . .
 
This is the suffering of all God’s creation,
some of it due to our inescapable mortality,
but much more of it the result of our sin.
 

This is the grief of the whole sin-sick world
in one silently sorrowing face.
 
Jesus looking
into his own broken heart,                         
breaking anew with every failure
of the human community
to embrace God’s enduring desire
to make of us God’s new creation.
 
In the depths of that breaking heart,
which is the heart of God,
we are all held,
the whole human race,
in an inexhaustible love
that suffers because of us and for us,
but never gives up
on us.
 
In this face there is
a profound stillness,
an immense patience,
and a peace that passes
all my understanding,
 
and, yes, a severe beauty.
 
The beauty, the glory,
of the crucified Christ.This is the face of the Christ who,
not counting equality with God
as something to be exploited,
emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant,
and being born in human likeness,
humbled himself and
became obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.                                                                                                    (Phil. 2:6-8 para)
 
This is the face of the Christ
whose high priesthood
was shaped in the days of his human likeness . . .
 
when he himself experienced our weakness,
offering up prayers and supplications
                   with loud cries and tears,
“learning obedience”
          through what he suffered.
 
This is the face of our priesthood,
the priesthood of all the baptized,
for in baptism,
God has written the pattern of Christ
on our hearts,
engraved Christ’s dying and rising
in the very center of our inmost being,
in that place where we are broken by life
     and re-made by God --
 
“Unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth . . .”
 
“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.”
                                                                  
 
“Jesus said this,”                    
John tells us,
“to indicate the kind of death
he was to die.”
 
Jesus, lifted up on the cross
that he might fall into the earth,
seed of God’s new Creation,
 
fall only to rise again
like wheat springing green
          from God’s good soil,
ripening in the warmth of the sun,   
flourishing, bearing
          its golden-headed fruit . . .
         
harvested,
gathered into the granary,
threshed out, ground into flour,
and made into bread . . .
 
to be taken, blessed, broken,
given for the life of world.
 
This is the meaning of Christ’s Eucharist,
instituted on the night before he died,
the Paschal Mystery
in a grain of wheat,
this rhythm, this pattern,
of self-emptying and self-offering,
of falling, dying, rising,
of
taking, blessing, breaking, giving.
 
 
We participate in the mystery
of the grain of wheat
and the fruit it produces
every Sunday,
 
but most fully, most deeply, most especially
in the liturgy of the
Sacred Three Days of Holy Week –
 
Here the heart of Jesus
is laid open for us to enter in –
Here our hearts are laid open
for Jesus to enter in –
 
Here we see the face of Jesus,
not in an image printed on cloth,
but in the living faces of each other,
in a myriad of actions, moments,
emotions, meanings  –
 

On Maundy Thursday,
washing each other’s feet,
sharing the holy meal of the Eucharist,
praying quietly at the altar of repose . . .
 
On Good Friday,
hearing John’s account of Jesus’ Passion,
interceding for the needs of a sorrowing world,
standing astonished and grieving
at the foot of the cross . . .
 
At the Easter Vigil,
lighting the new fire, sharing its flame, 
telling the stories of our salvation,
bringing a new Christian
through the waters of baptism
     and renewing our own vows;
raising our resurrection cry,
singing the beloved hymns of risen life,
     sharing the first Eucharist of Easter . . .
 
The Liturgy of these Sacred Three Days
completes in us our Lenten re-turning,
our Lenten conversion,
re-awakening in us
the pattern of Christ,
restoring in us
our baptismal identity,
re-writing God’s covenant on our hearts.
 
Suffering is not banished from this life
by Easter,
nor is sin,
but they are overcome;
there is a new creation,
the old is passing away.
 
 
This wonderful engraving,
this face of the suffering Christ,
is, after all,
     just a piece of late 19th century devotional art . . .
 
made in a time
when Eucharistic theology and popular piety
were grounded in Good Friday:
centered on the cross as
instrument of Jesus’ death –
on the Eucharist as penitential participation
     in that sacrifice –
and on our sin as the reason for it all.
 
But that is only part of the pattern.
 
When we return to our roots,
to the practice of the young Easter Church,
 
we recover
a faith grounded in Easter:
 
in the promise of the cross,
which is resurrection,
 
in the essence of the Eucharist,
which is a joyful sharing
in the very life of Christ
     that we may share that life the world,
 
in our core identity
as the baptized and redeemed,
who confess the faith of Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection,
and share with him
in his eternal priesthood.  
              (from the Welcome of the Newly Baptised,
              the Book of Common Prayer, p. 308)
 
Lent, Holy Week and Easter
draw us into the full pattern of Jesus the Christ,
the suffering and dying, yes,
and the resurrection and the glory of that rising . . .
 
for the sake of a world
which God refuses to
     abandon to sin . . .
 

For despite each day’s
          horrific headlines,
our personal and communal suffering,
the agony of a broken and heartbroken world . . .
 
there will be Easter,
because God’s heart is an Easter heart,
and God’s plan is an Easter plan.
 
May we, with Jesus,
fall like grains of wheat
into the fertile ground
                   of Holy Week,
to rise with him
and produce much Easter fruit.