“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” A Gospel reading we sometimes hear at funerals – for good reason.
For nature reveals a truth that is at the center of our Christian faith – that within the hard outer shell of a grain of wheat is contained the beginning of new life. The only way for this seed to bear fruit is to die and then be placed in the darkness of the earth.
St. John ties this truth of nature to the “hour” when Jesus was glorified –when his purpose of life is most made known: it was NOT at his birth when the angel choirs sang glory to God –
it was NOT when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and fed 5,000 people – it was NOT when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. . .
No, in St. John’s gospel the “hour” of Jesus’ glory is when he offers himself to God on the cross – and suffers and dies. Jesus greatest hour, his greatest accomplishment occurs on the cross – which is why the final words Jesus speaks in his earthly life are: “It is finished.”
Like the seed that dies in order to bear fruit, Jesus died that we may enjoy the fruit of eternal life. We call this the paschal mystery: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus --- it is the paradox that one must die in order to really live.
The Church presents us with this Gospel passage NOW – in order to put us in the right mindset for what is coming in these next two weeks.
For next Sunday, we shall hear not just prophecies about Jesus’ death – but we shall read on Palm Sunday, once again the story of Jesus Passion, Crucifixion, and Death. And those events will unfold for us day by day during Holy Week.
We hear this Gospel of the grain of wheat NOW to help us understand why Jesus goes to his death --- and why each of us must follow Him to the cross.
For if we are unwilling to die to our sin by going to the cross with Jesus --- and get back on the right track by dealing with the rats in our lives –
then we will not experience the new life Jesus died in order to give us.
I’m pretty sure that’s why Jesus told us we need to take up our cross daily – and follow after him---- because going to the cross, allowing the seed to die – is not something we just do once a year ---
there is always some selfishness to turn away from, some failure to overcome, some weakness that needs to be strengthened. If we don’t detect these things in our hearts and lives – then we aren’t looking hard enough. . . So daily we must ask: what inside of me must die in order for me to live more fully: to live more like Christ?
What do I need to turn loose of or overcome– so that the divine life of grace can take root within me and grow and bear fruit?
So this is the ultimate commitment we must make during Lent and on our journey of life: to follow Jesus to the cross –
To nail our faults, failings, sins, and rats to the wood of the cross in order to free ourselves from the past in order to change – or as we heard at the very beginning of Lent – to repent and in the Gospel ---so that we can be the kind, merciful, gentle people God is calling us to be.
Change isn’t easy.
To develop new habits and new mindsets can be very difficult. But change we must.
Growth isn’t optional if we want to follow the Lord with all our minds and all our hearts.
But change isn’t easy: we resist it. We wish that we could do without. We expect it of others but hope they don’t expect it of us.
Change isn’t easy.
It’s hard to say goodbye to the old version of ourselves. It’s hard to admit that we have fallen short of our potential in the past. It’s hard to shed our skin and reveal our new, vulnerable self to the world.
But unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies – it remains just a grain of wheat: it fails to produce fruit.
So do we dare to commit ourselves to this journey to the cross over the next two weeks?
We can if we remember that the only way to get to the new life of Easter – is through death on the cross on Good Friday.
Moments in time...