lent 5: Love Builds Up – Dwelling in Mystery

Readings from Scripture (NRSV) John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 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. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Love Builds Up – Mystery and Forgiveness

In the nineteenth century the greatest tightrope walker in the world was a man named Charles Blondin.  In June 1859, he became the first person in history to walk on a tightrope across raging Niagara Falls. 25,000 people gathered to watch him walk 1,100 feet suspended on a tiny rope. He worked without a net or safety harness of any kind.  When he safely reached the Canadian side, the crowd burst into a mighty roar. 

Blondin yelled “I’m going to do it again, but this time with a wheelbarrow full of rocks.”  He did this successfully, over and over.  The crowd went crazy. Blondin looked at the roaring crowd and said…”How many think I could take a person in the barrow across?”  They all cheered in belief.   Blondin then pointed at a man cheering loud and said, “Get in.”

The man refused.

As quickly as the hands went up, they went back down. Not a single person would volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow.  It’s one thing to be amazed by the courageous feats of someone else, and a whole different matter to try them yourself.  Yet the journey of faith is hearing the invitation to “do the works of Jesus, and greater things than these” (John 14)…climbing into that wheelbarrow knowing the risks.  Loving anything is risky…as C.S. Lewis once said that,

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless … it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”[1]

When we love, we risk being pulled deeper into the world, deeper into conflict.  Jesus’ love led him to the cross.  With every Passover journey to Jerusalem, Jesus would have passed row and row of crosses on Golgotha’s hill.  The suffering of the world wrung and broke the heart of God.  The vulnerability of God, the love of the one we call Saviour, and the passion of the Holy Spirit culminated in a visible sign to the world that love itself never ends as the stone was rolled away.  We walk this Lenten journey because this is where love leads: by the pools of Bethsaida, Jesus couldn’t ignore the cries of the suffering.  On the Sabbath, the day made for rest, Jesus got to work and healed.  At a wedding, and on the hillside for five thousand, even the thirsts and hungers were satiated.  Jesus’ risk in loving this world is that everyone wanted their own miracle.  But Jesus didn’t do all this in order that we might worship him.  Instead, we’re invited to follow him.  To do as he did.  To “bear much fruit” in a world that is hungry for love.  And that message became clearer and more consistent the closer he got to the cross. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken, becomes a powerful testament as you hang from a cross looking over those you love. 

And of course you ask…but how do I do that?  I can’t turn water to wine or multiply loaves and fishes, I can’t heal on a Tuesday let alone the Sabbath, and the idea of crucifixion…well…bless those who are able to risk protest and arrest and death for their beliefs….but I can’t do that. I think if this was easy, everyone would be doing it.  If loving was easy, it wouldn’t cost us time, or energy, or risk things like public opinion or even death.  If loving was easy we wouldn’t cry at graveside or at the moment of having to put down our pets.  If loving was easy then this pandemic would have been over long ago. 

I heard at a faith leader discussion about vaccine distribution this week, that the reason why the vaccine was produced so quickly was because across the world, everyone knew someone that was affected.  Money and funding poured in overnight to find a solution to this global problem.  In the past scientists and researchers would do their work, and eventually it would culminate in a search for funding and distribution.  Many vaccines before this have ceased development because companies decided it wasn’t worth the cost and effort, because the majority of the population wasn’t affected.  That thought alone made me wonder what’s really possible if we determined a problem affected everyone.  Like clean water.  Or healthy food.   Or air to breathe, or affordable housing.  COVID has reminded us what we’re capable of – though, if loving was easy, everyone would be doing it. 

Jesus says, if loving were easy, then there’d never be challenge by the religious officials, or the Roman elite.  If loving were easy, then there’d be no tables in the temple to turn over because someone else would have gotten there first.  If loving were easy, there wouldn’t be roadside beggars, or need of stories of ‘good’ Samaritans.  Love is the mystery that binds the story of Jesus together. 

And what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  [Save me from the pain of loving?] No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.” 

Glorify your name as together we live out love that bears much fruit. 

If loving was easy, I would never be confronted by people so held hostage by or enamoured with their story of how someone hurt them.  You can feel someone’s pain so palpably, that it’s often the first thing out of their mouths.  You may have someone like that in your life.  It may even be you.  Sometimes it comes from a good place – a protective place of wanting to warn others… I have been present to well-meaning individuals who pulled me aside quietly after they heard what church I serve who just wanted me to know what those people in that church did.  That’s happened several times in my short career.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken, but as we are called to do the same work of Jesus, we need to do the work that enables us to love again after being wrung out or broken.

I think the most profound work of love is that of forgiveness.  It’s the work that we all can do – because we’ve either been hurt by someone or hurt someone.  It’s the same realization the Gospel writers had in collecting the stories of Jesus, hitting copy and paste for the number of times Jesus talks about forgiveness rooted in love.  It’s that prevalent.  Jesus knew how forgiveness gives us the strength to allow something to die[2], in order that it will bear much fruit.  We forgive another for hurting us.  We forgive ourselves for saying the wrong words, doing the wrong thing, hurting someone we love (or even more difficult forgiving ourselves for something done to someone we felt justified in hurting).  We forgive because the opposite (carrying the burden of pain) makes us unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To some that may seem attractive, that you can never be hurt again, but that’s not living.  That’s watching the world pass you by.  It’s tempting to live that life – but for those that hate their life (and hate the interactions that lead to instances of forgiveness) then you’ll keep that pattern for all your days, mired in pain and suffering.  Instead, love that looks like forgiveness may break your heart, but in that brokenness you’re able to experience new life, again and again. 

All that being said, I have no idea how forgiveness works.  It’s one neuron saying to another – yeah that’s not who we are anymore as the electrical pulse travels from one side of your brain to another.  It’s unseen and mysterious, the making space for your pain and suffering to die, the risk of work that you may still not be ‘over it,’ but doing all that in order that you might heal and grow.  Because wrapped up in that pain and suffering is love – tangled, forgotten, maligned love. 

If loving was easy, everyone would be doing it, if forgiveness was easy, everyone would be doing it. 

Forgiveness is so central to Jesus’ teaching that in what we’ve called The Lord’s Prayer that’s it’s not just mentioned once, it’s repeated.  It’s that integral.  Everything from our debts to our trespasses, from how someone hurt us to how we’ve hurt others, forgiveness is the most necessary, and most mysterious forms of love.  And while there are plenty[3] of websites[4] and resources[5] about how to forgive (yourself and others), ‘change [only] happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.’  Forgiveness only happens when the pain of carrying our pain is greater than the pain of letting it go.  When letting that pain go is easier then carrying it, then we’ll find the strength to forgive. It doesn’t feel that way, but choosing to stay the same, to remind yourself not to call someone because you’re mad at them, takes just as much effort as forgiveness.  And we are called to this difficult work of love by someone who modelled it even ‘til the bitter end.

For as we near the end of our Lenten journey, as we’ll welcome Jesus Jerusalam with palm branches waving that will soon become fist shaking, the first words from the cross will echo for all eternity, Father, forgive them.  For the Gospel writers knew in the years which followed Jesus’ crucifixion that love and forgiveness were the only hope to unite a deeply divided world. 

We’re capable of so much more, so long as we’re willing to risk forgiveness built upon love. 


[1] Lewis, C.S., The Four Loves

[2] Our desires for things to be different, our pain that we’ve carried, love unrequited, unreasonable expectations of self or other etc…

[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-forgive-yourself

[4] https://www.oprahmag.com/life/a26028888/how-to-forgive-yourself/

[5] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_keys_to_forgiveness

2 Comments

  1. I appreciated Alison’s Prelude this morning–so fitting for Lent, I thought.

    The choral music of Colin and Madison is a treasured plus in each service and I thank them for their weekly contributions.

    Janice B.

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