Preached on 18 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B
“The hour has come,” Jesus says. Time and again, throughout John’s gospel, it has been said, “because the hour had not yet come.” And now, it’s here. Jesus has just returned to Jerusalem and he’s setting the stage, preparing the disciples for what is to come; his Passion and resurrection.
Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent, the last one before Holy Week begins next week. The hour has come for us to prepare for what is to come; to set the stage in our hearts and souls. I suggest we begin by reflecting on our experience of Lent this year.
We began on Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, the day of the Parkland shooting. You heard an invitation to the observance of a Holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
The first question is, how did you decide to observe Lent and how is it going?? And the second is, how did you experience Lent?
A lot has happened since then. There have been marches and demonstrations. There have been threats and saber-rattling. There have been snow days and sunny, spring-like days. And flowers blossoming all around us. There have been the regular routines of life, going to work, kissing the kids and helping with homework, doing laundry, time with family and friends, sharing meals, washing dishes.
In all of that, where have you found God? As you think back, can you remember details? Where were you? Who were you with? Did you see Christ in a person? Or in an interaction? Maybe it was a moment of true inner peace in the middle of all the noise or uncertainty of life.
Were there any surprises? What did you discover about God or yourself?
One of the frustrating things is that we can only see what God chooses to reveal. We can’t make God reveal anything. The most we can do is spend the time and attention to notice and to be open to the possibility that what we’re experiencing is truly God.
A year ago, last fall, I went on a pilgrimage, walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Thirty-some days, 500 miles or so. When I got home some friends asked if it was what I had hoped’ if I found what I was looking for. I told them that I didn’t go with an agenda or expectation other than that God would be there. Pilgrimage is about seeking God in the unexpected or at least in someplace new to us.
Transition is a bit like a pilgrimage. It’s an opportunity to try something different; to seek Christ in new and possibly unexpected people and experiences. It’s listening for God’s voice in possibly new ways. How is God already at work here?
And what work is God calling us to do next?
This is holy time. This is holy work.
The Greeks came to Philip and asked, “We wish to see Jesus.” That could be us. Isn’t that why we’re here? We wish to see Jesus, we want to know God, not just know about God. And we cherish the company of others along the way who also wish to see Jesus.
So, as you reflect on your experience of Lent and how you have found God, expand that reflection to Ascension. Does your experience here, as a part of this community, help you see and hear Jesus? Help you know God? Does our worship play a part in that?
All of this reflection is good preparation for prayerfully responding to the CAT questions.
This is an important time in the life of the parish.
You are discerning your identity, who you are as a community of faith. And just as important, you are discerning how God is calling you to serve the people of God. It’s important work, it’s work you must do together.
Then it’s up to the profile committee to gather it all up, find a way to articulate who you are so they can present it for priests to use in discerning where God may be calling them to serve. Jesus is already setting the stage for what’s next in the life of this parish.
In our gospel, this morning, Jesus sets the stage for what will come next in his life: The Passion – his arrest and crucifixion; his suffering and dying. He talks about a grain of wheat “dying” when it is planted in the ground so that it can bear fruit.
I invite you to use this coming week of reflecting on your experience of Christ this Lent to prepare your hearts and your spirit for Holy Week, to set the stage for the experience of the whole week.
We begin with the triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday when we will also hear the Passion story as told by Mark.
Then on Maundy Thursday, we remember the Last Supper with the disciples when Jesus institutes the sacrament of the bread and wine as well as the servanthood of discipleship as we wash one another’s feet. We feel the desolation of the arrest of Jesus as we strip the altar and depart in silence, waiting for the liturgy to continue on Friday.
Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion. An empty sanctuary, an empty aumbry; the light is out. This time we hear the Passion story as told by John and we wait. We wait and pray at the cross.
Finally, on Saturday, we reach the highlight of the year and the culmination of the liturgy, one liturgy that spans three days:
We light the New Fire amongst the tombs of those we love who have gone before; those we hope to see again in the resurrection. And then we gather to hear the stories, the stories of God and our ancestors, the stories of Salvation. We renew our Covenant with God in the Waters of Baptism and celebrate with bells and light and song. And finally, at last, we feast on the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the first Eucharist of Easter. Fire and Water; Darkness and Light;
Story, Song, and Sacrament; Flowers and Bells;
It is the Passover of our Lord.
The hour has come. It’s time to get ready.