Sermon, Lent 5

From the very beginning of our fallen state the greatest burden we laid on ourselves is the inability to see and talk to God face to face. We know that Adam and Eve hid themselves from God after their transgression, and the garments of leaves they used to cover their nakedness served more as blindfolds than as disguises. Notice it is not God’s seeing us that is hampered, but our seeing God, and after generations of sinfully hiding behind our possessions, our stubborn independence, our compulsions, our pride, our shame or our whatever, we really, genuinely cannot see God, and for many reasons that is a very good thing. To think that we will one day see God face to face is a wonderful and horrible thought. To think that He shall stand at last on the earth; and that in our flesh we shall see God, must make us yearn for the day of His coming and yearn for some leaves to make blindfolds. So we must say, along with the Greeks that St. John just told us about, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” said the group of Greeks, said the gaggle of gentiles to Philip. Philip had a Greek name, he was the obvious choice amongst the disciples for these Greeks to approach and attempt to gain an audience with Jesus. Jesus had performed many signs and wonders over the preceding couple of years, but one thing Jesus had done had everyone in a tizzy. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, called him out of his tomb; Jesus had performed many miracles, He had healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, had made the lame to walk, He had shown mastery over the very forces of nature, but this, this Lazarus thing, wow. Lazarus was dead, now he’s sitting at the breakfast table with his sisters. Sir, we wish to see this Jesus. And Lazarus, for that matter, the multitudes wished to see him, too. Lazarus had become a not-so-minor celebrity, surely the innkeepers in Bethany were very happy with his resuscitation. Lazarus fascinates me, I would have been one of those in the crowds who invaded Bethany to get a look at this man who was dead but somehow was still alive. I would have wanted to ask him questions, ask him if he had met any angels before he was dragged back to life, ask him if he even wanted to come back to life again, given the fact that he was going to have die again. So the crowds came to see Lazarus as well, and about a week before the episode we heard in the Gospel lesson, the crowds got a peek at both Lazarus and Jesus having dinner in Bethany, a dinner given in honor of Jesus by Lazarus’ sisters. The chief priests saw that many people were following Jesus, putting their trust in Jesus, because he had raised Lazarus, so even as Jesus and Lazarus ate dinner, the priests were plotting to kill them both. All they had to do was wait about a week, until the Feast, when Jesus and Lazarus would most likely enter Jerusalem to go to the party. The plan was in motion.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The Greeks who asked Philip for an audience with the Man who brought Lazarus back to life were probably not expecting to here Him talk about death, but that’s exactly what they got. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” The Messiah they had sought to show them life was speaking of death, His own death, and about following Him to a similar fate. Whoever was to serve the Christ must follow the Christ, follow Him along the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, along the Way of Sorrow. This Jesus did hold the key of life the Greeks sought, but it was a life they had not expected.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” said the Greeks to Philip, and Jesus offered them and us the way to see Him. If you wish to see me, you must follow me, Jesus says, “ Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” We don’t know if those Greeks followed Jesus, but we know the way He took, we follow that way here on Friday nights, the Way of the Cross.

The Way of the Cross, those fourteen Stations we visit and contemplate hold a special meaning to me, they are one of the ways that I see Jesus most clearly. I am not the most emotional guy, but I never make it through the Stations of the Cross without great sadness, and for that matter, without great hope. It was at my former parish in DC that I learned to be effected by the Stations, learned to see Jesus in the mighty acts he performed in such great humility. Every Saturday my friend Father Mitch and I would open up the parish for Morning Prayer and Low Mass, and every Saturday two women would show up not long after the church was opened. We called them the Holy Women or the Holy Ladies: they spoke very little English, they appeared to be northern African, and we found out later they were Copts, Coptic Christians, probably from Egypt, though no one was sure. Dressed in flowing robes and with their heads covered, they would walk the Way of the Cross, stopping at each Station for several minutes, those minutes spent on their knees in silent prayer and contemplation. The Holy Ladies would move slowly from Station to Station, finally moving to the shrines of the Virgin Mary on one side of the nave and of St. Joseph on the other side, lighting candles for prayers unknown to us, but most certainly heard by God. “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor,” Jesus said, and I’m sure the Father honors those Holy Ladies who seek to see Jesus so earnestly.

Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Or do we? The whole visage can be hard to take: to see Jesus we need to see the man who heals the sick and forgives the sinner, but we also need to see the man who rebukes the hypocrite and clears the temple of the moneychangers. We want to see the Jesus who walked out of His tomb in resurrected glory, but to see Him we also need to see the Jesus who laid bloody and beaten on a dirt path in Jerusalem. We want to see the Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, but to see Him, we need to see the Jesus who died a shameful death on a cross, whose Body was laid in the arms of His broken-hearted Mother. We want to see Jesus in His glory, but we have to accept that vision as Jesus saw it: glory in humility, glory in sacrifice, glory in love, the kind of love that leads a man to lay down his life for his friends. Jesus isn’t hiding. He has revealed Himself in the flesh, He reveals Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, in Scripture, in the Stations of the Cross; He reveals Himself by way of His Blessed Mother and in every act of Christian charity. So come, come to the altar of God, come listen to Scripture and to the Blessed Mother, come walk the Way of the Cross, come and say with the Greeks, we wish to see Jesus.

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