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, …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. (Read the whole passage)
This is our final step along the way in our wilderness journey. We have heard the story of Lazarus, watched as Peter objected to Jesus watching the disciples feet, and then we spent two weeks with Jesus on trial. Today, we hear again a story from Holy Week, but we are not so deep into the story this time. We preview what is coming next Sunday on Palm Sunday. Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. They are there for the passover festival. They are there on Sunday, the first day of the week, first day of Holy Week. This piece of John’s gospel takes place just after Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. It should really be told next Sunday, sometime in the afternoon. But we hear it today, on the last Sunday of Lent, for a reason.
It begins with Greeks. Greek who are from elsewhere. Jews who speak greek because they live in greek lands, far from Jerusalem. And they have come for passover, they have come to have their sins forgiven, they have come to see the great spectacle of Jerusalem at festival time. But the way these greeks approach Philip suggest they are looking for something more, something that is more than entertainment or show.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”.
Sir they say to a lowly fisherman. Sir they say a pilgrims wealthy enough to travel far just for a festival.
We wish they say. We hope. We long. We Yearn. We desire. We need. They express their want to see Jesus as wishing. Wishing which implies a need for change, a hope for something different.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus. They want to see and know Jesus. The man who’s name means God Saves. The man who has been healing people, exorcizing unclean spirits, who has been teaching and preaching. The man who raised someone from the dead in Lazarus.
The greeks have come looking for something, someone. And maybe they don’t know what or why or who. But Jesus might fit the bill, fit their need for something deeper, something mysterious, something bigger than themselves.
The polite request by the Greeks to see Jesus is a feeling we know well. We too long for something more. For things to be different. We hope that our lives could be other than the way they are.
As human beings, we have this longing deep within us. We want to know that there is something bigger than us out there and we want to know where we fit in the cosmic order. Churches try all the time to bring this sense of “more” to worshippers.
Some churches search for that sense of euphoria, that spiritual high. Praise songs and hand raising, long sincere prayers and wonderful fellowship.
Others try to bring people closer to God by serving others. Soup kitchens and food banks, giving money to far way countries and for starving orphans.
And still other churches try to show the mystery and grandness of God. With big stone cathedrals, powerful organ music and reverent liturgy.
And indeed all are ways in which God is experienced. We see God in these places.
But that desire to see God also expresses itself in other ways. We look for the divine in buying and consuming things. We look to make ourselves secure and safe from the the things that would harm us or that make us fearful. We seek out power and control over our world and others.
We look for God in all the wrong places. We look to be like God. We look to be God in God’s place. And we do it because of original sin, of that desire within us to ourselves first.
When the Greeks and Philip and Andrew finally get to Jesus, he doesn’t answer their question in a way that any of them expect. He doesn’t offer himself to the greeks, he doesn’t say, “See I am here!”.
As we pass through this final week of Lent, we have been prepared for what is to come. Jesus has gone into the wilderness, Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, he has reminded Peter that there is no share in him unless Jesus washes us clean, Jesus has stood firm in the truth while Peter denied him, and Jesus has confronted the powers of the world in Pilate and in death. Now, after 4 weeks of preparation, four weeks of wilderness, four weeks of having our failing and faults revealed, we are finally ready to ask that question that the greeks ask, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”.
And Jesus points us to a time and place. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” It takes a while, but Jesus does answer our longing, our hope, our desire for something different, something bigger than ourselves. But it is not at all in the way we expect. We are longing and hoping for a glimpse of the divine, to see past the veil. We want to see the world as it should be, as we would like it to be. We want the spiritual high, the feeling of gratification after helping someone, the reverence of divine mystery. And instead Jesus gives us a cross. A cross where we will see God.
Imagine if someone came here looking for a church home, looking for some truth bigger than themselves, looking for a place to belong, a place to be fed, a place to meet God, a place to see Jesus. And instead of doing all the things we normally do when a visitor comes seeming interested in us, like giving them a newsletter or a mailbox or pointing them to the pew we know isn’t unofficially saved by a regular… Imagine if we instead simply pointed to the cross.
Imagine if someone said to us,
“We wish to see Jesus.”
And we just turned and pointed at the cross on the wall.
It is absurd.
The cross is an absurd place for God to be found.
Yet the cross is the place where God is revealed.
Yet the cross is the place where Jesus reveals God to the world.
Yet the cross is the place where God is visible to us in plain sight.
And the cross, the place of suffering, humiliation and death is the very place where God gathers all people to Godself.
The cross is the place where we see Jesus.
In just less than two weeks, on Good Friday, the glory of God will be revealed on a cross and no matter what we are looking for, no matter the places the we search, churches, shopping malls, schools, places of work, places of power, places of escape. And on the cross God is making room for all of us beneath it arms. God is gathering us all up to show us that in the least likely of places, God is revealed.
And we will see Jesus. We will see Jesus in all his glory. We will see God changing the world. We will see God changing us.