John 12:23-36a

Meditation from ecumenical Good Friday service:

The members of HCPC have been walking through John this Lent. John’s gospel is unique in terms of how it describes Jesus’ level of control over his suffering and death. Unlike the others, there’s no excruciating scene of worry and abandonment. Instead, the emphasis is on Jesus’ eternal identity as the Son of God, who knew this process from the beginning. Where, Luke, for instance, sees Jesus’ human will begging to be released, John emphasizes Christ’s deep unity with God. He’s completely on board with God’s plan here.

That’s not to minimize the trauma of death. I can’t belittle death before you who know death all too well – the deaths of your parents, siblings, spouses, or children. Even Jesus’ soul goes into turmoil as death comes closer. The anxieties of this great passage are real, not just an artifact of some “weakness.” I imagine Jesus felt himself fill up with his disciples’ fears, his enemies’ rage and indifference, the pain of a world suffering injustice and violence.

But John emphasizes Jesus’ courage – not the absence of human fear and sorrow, but confidence that God’s glory will be revealed through self-giving. He plans to overthrow the ruler of the world, not by conquering someone with military force, but by ending the power of death to hold us in fear. The “ruler of the world” is overthrown because it wasn’t in power to begin with. Life has always had the final word, because life was always the first Word. Jesus reveals life’s glory by giving himself to death. He shows that life is unquenchable, that it rises even in the face and the wake of death.

Jesus talks of himself as a seed, dying to bear fruit, rising from the cold, dead soil. Every seed dies to live, and we know it, even in Good Friday’s cold, wet gloom. (Did anyone grow up planting potatoes today?) Planting seeds is an affirmation of faith, an act of planning for a future we can’t see. A future that can’t even exist yet. A reality that hasn’t yet sprouted. But this is life, even when it looks dead, even when it’s buried. Especially when it’s buried. Giving the seed to death is the only way to let it grow.

And seeds do grow. That’s what they’re here for, and they’re good at it. Life is unimaginably hardy. It’s intent on thriving, whatever else happens. So seeds sprout within days of forest fires; in fact, many pine cones wait to open up until the forest undergrowth burns away. So the vast clear-cuts of a hundred years ago have become forests again. So the empty mine pits can hold the possibility of new life. This Good Friday is also Earth Day, and so we marvel at life’s power to regenerate, even as we acknowledge our role in making life that much harder to sustain.

I think Jesus is in both of those places. He knows deeply that life continues, so he goes to death with a clear-eyed trust in God. There is no ultimate worry. At the same time, his “soul is troubled.” There is much stirring and stretching within him. I imagine that’s what seeds feel too. They must be stirred and stretched as they change shape, burst from their hull, and become something completely new. That can’t be comfortable; It must feel something much like death. But it’s the way of life, and that’s what seeds are good at.

It’s what we’re good at too. Our lives don’t give up, even at death. Jesus says his death will “draw everyone to me.” He will bring us into his life. We’re drawn to the cross because we know deeply what’s going on there. We know deeply that life grows most richly by giving itself up. We’re drawn to Christ – we resonate with his suffering, loss, and transformation – and Christ resonates with ours, too. His soul feels our life’s turmoil.

So Christ is present in our hours of suffering, and we’re present in Christ’s death. We all bring death into this space, with all its false power over us. We hold losses within us – losses of loved ones, of health, of roles and identities. We ultimately hold the loss of ourself, in death and in change. So Jesus’ soul is troubled, stirred up with our troubles. Jesus invites us in, with everything we bring along. Even with our death, now ready to live again.

The seed of new life is planted. We feel its sorrow and see its change. And we rejoice, even at the foot of the cross, because God’s Chosen is there too. He’s there, ready to split at the seams, to open the way of life for all people. Christ is present with us in our own bursting forth, our rebirth into a greatly abundant life. So may we find it.