March 28-29, 2009 Fifth Sunday in Lent - Cycle B
There were two men who worked at a large construction site. One of them was a construction worker and the other was a security guard who worked at the gate to the site. Every day at closing time the construction worker would come through the gate with a wheelbarrow. Some days it would contain straw, others dirt, and others scraps of metal or wood. The guard knew that somehow the construction worker was stealing something, but no matter how hard he searched through the material in the wheelbarrow, he could never catch him. Years after the construction was completed and the two men went their separate ways, the guard ran into the construction worker in a bar. He offered to buy him a beer and the two men sat down to talk. The guard said to the construction worker, “When we worked on that construction job together I knew you were stealing something but I could never catch you. To ease an old man’s mind, please tell me what you were stealing and how you managed to conceal it from me.” The construction worker replied, “Oh, I was stealing wheelbarrows!”
And of course that is just one of many stories we could tell of people looking for something and not finding it, even though it is right under their noses. Many in Israel in the time when Jesus lived there were looking for the Messiah. Yet only a few of the many who encountered Jesus of Nazareth saw the Messiah.
"Sir, we would like to see Jesus. " The Gospel story we just heard takes place on Palm Sunday, after Jesus has been led triumphantly into Jerusalem. It is a tantalizingly terse story. Are the Greek speaking pilgrims just fascinated by Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem earlier in the day, or is their request rooted in a more profound desire to encounter Jesus? We never find out; nor do we really know from the story whether they ever get to see Jesus. It is not clear from the text whether Jesus' response is just to Philip and Andrew or if the Greek speaking pilgrims are there as well. That tells us pretty clearly that the author was not trying to blog about Jesus' day but rather meant for it to be considered more deeply. Indeed, the author has given us a story that strikes a chord with us, 2000 years later.
For what true Christian does not have that question on their mind if not their lips? "I would like to see Jesus." But are we looking in the right place?
The story as told in this Gospel can help us with that. Jesus' response to Philip and Andrew (and maybe the Greek speaking pilgrims) can be interpreted on several levels. At the most obvious, it is a reference to his impending death and resurrection. It is one more example of the author of this Gospel demonstrating that Jesus is in complete control. This impending suffering and death are not being forced on Jesus; he is aware of all that is going on, and it is only by his will that it happens. This is quite a different picture of the paschal mystery we get in the other 3 Gospels, and certainly different from the picture that the author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us of a Jesus who, in the flesh, cries out in anguish.
But in the context of this story, Jesus' response is more than a casual reference to his suffering and death. The writer of the Gospel is specific in calling those seeking to see Jesus Greek speaking to indicate that they are not Israelites to whom the Messiah was sent. As long as Jesus walked this earth, only those who lived or visited that tiny part of the world had access to Jesus. Jesus reveals that it is only by dying, rising, and then sending his Spirit into the world will he become accessible to all the world, regardless of place or even time. Jesus came to save the whole of creation, not just the people of Israel 2000 years ago.
And even more deeply, Jesus is telling his disciples, which includes us, how we are to make it possible for those who want to see Christ, to see him no matter where or when they live, or what language they speak. In baptism we are called to die to ourselves so that we might rise to new life in Christ, becoming part of the body of Christ so he can be seen by those who seek him in every place and every age.
Jesus' response again reminds us that if we are looking for Christ in great theophanies or mind blowing miracles or apparitions of triumph or gross violations of the laws of science, we will never see him. Jesus reminds us that we are called to be the body of the Christ who suffers and dies before he rises in victory.
It is that Christ we are called to be the body of. We are to incarnate Christ in our struggles and pain and suffering and failure, and yes, in our deaths. We are to incarnate the Christ who humbled himself, came to serve, to forgive, to heal, and above all, to love.
So how do we see Christ in a way that prepares us to be the body of that Christ? Mother church is so good to us; she is about to give us just such an opportunity, the Triduum. The Triduum is an incredibly rich and profound encounter with Christ that takes 3 whole days to celebrate.
Fr. Dave, and Deacon Bob, and I strongly urge you to celebrate the Triduum with us. To call oneself a Catholic and not celebrate the Triduum is like calling yourself a college basketball fan and not watching the Final Four. So come Holy Thursday evening at 7:30 PM to experience the Christ who came to serve, not to be serve, and to pour himself out for us as we celebrate the washing of the apostles’ feet by Jesus and the institution of the Eucharist. Stay for a while between the end of mass and 11 PM, watching and praying with Christ as he asked his apostles to do after the Last Supper. Come back at 11 PM to say Night Prayer with us.
Join us again at 9 AM on Good Friday to pray Morning Prayer as we mark the time Jesus was being questioned, and beaten, and condemned to death. Re-live the suffering and death, and forgiveness of Jesus as he hung dying on the cross at our Good Friday liturgy, 3:00 PM for children or 7:30 PM for our main liturgy.
And wait with us on that day when the whole world held its breath as the King of Creation slept in the tomb, praying Morning Prayer with us at 9 AM Saturday.
Then at the Easter Vigil at 8:30 PM Saturday nigh,t gather with us around the Easter fire as we light the new Easter candle, as we exult in the singing of our salvation story, listen in darkness to the story of how we came to be a world, a human race, the chosen people of God. And sing the Alleliua with us for the first time in 40 days, as we bless the waters of the font and renew our baptismal vows, recalling how we die to self in the waters of baptism and rise again, in Christ, a new creation.
And so strengthened and nourished and inspired by this Triduum encounter with the real Christ, we may go forth into the world to be the body of that Christ here on earth. So we can be humble, and forgiving, and healing, and most of all loving, so that others may see Christ.