I think that one of the most profound phrases in all the scriptures can be found in our Gospel reading today. It is six, simple words: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
It is a humble, respectful request, made to the disciples by a group of travelers, people of Greek origin, who have apparently come a long way to be in that place that day.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
So why would these foreigners, these strangers want to see Jesus? Why would they travel so far? Why would they break cultural barriers and ask permission to see and speak with this Jewish rabbi and healer? Why would they be so intent on encountering Jesus?
Well, there is nothing in the scriptures that tells us their motivation. But based on what we know about Jesus and how he intereacted with people, and what we know about the culture at the time, we can make a pretty good guess.
Word had spread about Jesus…about his teachings…his healings…about his miracles. And obviously, the stories had caught these traveler’s attention.
So this simple, six-word question reflects a deep longing to connect with something greater than themselves…something deep, meaningful, and profound. They wanted to touch the Holy. They believed that seeing and encountering Jesus would somehow change them. It would bring meaning, or purpose to their lives.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” they said to the disciples.
So, the disciples go to see Jesus and they tell him that these strangers want to see him. And Jesus responds to the disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
In other words, Jesus says “Ok…it’s time.”
- It’s time because word of who Jesus is has clearly reached far enough, and wide enough. And people, even people outside of the Jewish tradition, are beginning to believe.
- It is time because now this part of Jesus’ mission is complete and it’s time for what’s next.
So, what is next? Well, Jesus gives us the answer. He said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” What’s next is glory. Glory.
Now, glory is a funny word. We equate it with victory. As in Olympic victory, or Super Bowl victory, or promotions or awards. It is the kind of glory that we love to see…that we love to experience. It is the kind of glory that those Greek travelers wanted to see that day. The glory of Jesus, the Messiah…the glory of Jesus the King…of Jesus a savior of power, perhaps even on a throne.
But this was not the kind of glory that Jesus was talking about. Not at all. At least, not yet.
Yes, Jesus said, the hour has come for glory, but it is a different…unexpected…kind of glory. It is time for obedience glory. It is time for suffering glory. It is time for the glory of the cross.
Jesus goes on to say that “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.”
Jesus is letting his followers know that yes, there will be the glory of resurrection, but before resurrection comes betrayal…and arrest…and prosecution…and the cross…and suffering…and death.
This is a much harder, more complicated kind of glory to understand. We like to see the glory of the resurrection…the glory of power. This is easy to see. But the glory of obedience and suffering and crucifixion…that is harder for us to swallow.
Some of you may remember the terrible tornado that tore through the the town of St. Peter, Minnesota in 1998. The tornado slashed through St. Peter, and the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College during the school’s spring break.
The town and the campus both experienced massive destruction. I went with a team from my church the next day to assist with clean up. It was unbelievable. There were 40 of us on the bus going down there that day. As we pulled into town…it was just overwhelming. The bus went silent. None of us could even speak. There were no words.
The heart of the college campus, up on the hill overlooking the Minnesota River valley, is Christ Chapel. It is a beautiful, large, white Sanctuary that seats over 1,500. And it has a massive spire with a giant cross on top that reaches 187 feet above the ground. It is visible for miles.
The tornado toppled that spire. It just bent it right over. And it tore the cross right off the top of it. The cross was found, bent, and twisted, lying nearby.
Over time, the town, the campus, and the chapel, were rebuilt and repaired. Those communities have healed. Burt one of the most profound images from that day can still be found at Christ Chapel. Today, that twisted, dented cross…the one that was torn from the spire…it hangs from the ceiling just inside the entryway.
When you walk in to Christ Chapel, you see that cross hanging in the entry. And, behind it, way off in the background, hanging on the wall in the distance over the beautiful altar area, is the giant Sanctuary cross.
The bent cross from the spire in the foreground, broken and twisted…the empty, undamaged, beautiful cross in the background.
The symbolism is powerful. The first cross representing death, destruction, and brokenness. And the second cross representing restoration, healing, new life, and resurrection.
The glory of crucifixion. The glory of resurrection.
This imagery reminds me that our faith is a faith of “both and.” To follow Jesus is to live in a paradox:
- Crucifixion and resurrection
- Death and new life
- Law and Gospel
These are all two sides of the same coin. We cannot have one without the other.
Hear these words of Jesus again: “…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.”
And Jesus is saying that for us to see…to really see the glory of God in the crucifixion and death of Jesus, we need to set aside our own pride, our own ego, our own wants, and desires. These things get in the way. They distract us. They draw us away from Jesus. We need to let those things die.
Once those things are set aside, our vision can settle on the glory of the crucified Jesus…and then ultimately, on the glory of Christ resurrected.
I read a story recently about the Indianapolis 500 race…one of the biggest, and most prestigious of racing events. In the 1971 Indy 500, Gary Bettenhausen was considered a contender. He had a good car, and a great team, and he had been working hard…giving everything for months, so that he could cross the finish line first. He wanted it bad.
As the drivers approached the end of the race, Beettenhausen was in fourth place, right there in the mix, vying for the win. Suddenly, there was a crash that involved the three cars that were ahead of him. The car driven by his rival, Mike Mosley slammed into the outside wall and burst into flames.
Gary Bettenhausen was the first car behind the wreck. He had a quick decision to make. He could continue and win the race, or not. In a split second, he decided. He took his foot off of the accelerator and put it on the brake and pulled his car into the grass infield. Before the car had even come to a stop, he’d climbed out and ran across the track, where he pulled Mike Mosley, who had suffered a broken leg, out of his flaming car, probably saving his life.
As he carried Mosley to the infield of the track, he watched the other cars drive past, under the yellow flag, to the finish line…to glory.
That day, Gary sacrificed his dream to win the Indy 500. He set aside his ego, his wants, and his desires. He let those things go, so that he could be a part of something greater. He lost the race, but he succeeded as a human being, who set aside himself, and put someone else’s critical needs ahead of his own. It was a different kind of glory.
“Sir, we want to see Jesus.”
This is really a statement on behalf of all of us, isn’t it? I mean that is why we are here. We come to worship to give praise and thanksgiving, and offerings…but we also come here with our hopes.
- We hope to catch a glimpse of God’s great love and grace for each of us.
- We hope to taste, and to see that the Lord is Good. In the bread and wine of the sacrament…in the Word of God that we hear. In the community that gathers.
- We hope to see Jesus. We want to see Jesus.
And just like with his disciples, Jesus says to you today. “Yes, the hour is at hand. The time is now. You can see me in all my glory…in the foreground, the glory of crucifixion and death…in the background, the glory of the resurrection.
And to see this, Jesus reminds us today that you just need to set yourself aside. Let go of those things that make your life all about you.
My friends, set your eyes, your focus on Jesus. Look and see. Because right now, in all his glory, as he approaches the cross, Jesus is looking and seeing you. He knows you, and he loves you.
We want to see Jesus, again and again. Look and see. See the glory of Jesus the crucified one…because that will lead us to the glory of Jesus, the resurrected Savior.
Thanks be to God!