In listening to the words of today’s Gospel we see that Jesus realises he is coming very close to the cataclysmic events that were to become the hinge points of the whole of human history: his own death and resurrection.
I think that we can never overstate the impact of his death and resurrection. Everything that existed before, everything that exists now and everything that will exist in the future depends upon and takes its meaning from these events.
Many people live their lives quite oblivious to this fact and I suppose many more in the future will do the same. But if we are to make sense of the world and all that is in it then we must come to the realisation that what occurred on those three days two-thousand years ago is of absolutely crucial importance.
Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, says Jesus and he gives us that beautiful proverb about the grain of wheat. Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.
As we know, these words were uttered just a few days before Jesus himself was do die and rise again in order to bear the greatest harvest of all. He dies so that many might live; indeed so that all might live, all who chose his way of self-sacrifice.
This is a harvest far greater than any mere sheaf of wheat. This is a harvest of souls, a bounteous harvest of souls won for eternal life.
So we can see why Jesus calls his death a glorification. That darkest moment of all, especially considering the circumstances, is turned into a victory not only for Christ but also for all of us.
We spend this last week of Lent in what we can only call “The Shadow of the Cross.” As we approach Good Friday, each day we spend a little more time in meditation on the terrible events that unfolded all those years ago.
As Christians our natural instinct is to accompany Jesus on that last journey and feel deeply for him as we witness from a distance the brutalities and indignities he experienced for our sake.
The Cross does cast a shadow across the life of every Christian. We all experience loss, sorrow and suffering at one time or another but knowing that our Divine Saviour walked the same way before us gives us the strength to carry on. And we carry on full of hope precisely because of the victory he won for us on the Cross of Calvary.
In the words of today’s Gospel and in their echo in the Letter to the Hebrews we get some idea of the anguish Jesus went through.
Unlike the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke there is no Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane in the Fourth Gospel. For John the garden is merely the place where Jesus is arrested.
The suffering of the Agony in the Garden is transferred to this scene before the Passover. John records the words: Now my soul is troubled. Jesus knows that his hour is at hand; that the time has come for all that was foretold to take place.
The other Gospels, with almost the same words in each of them, record Jesus praying: Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done.
Here in John the incident is formulated differently. There is no vigil of prayer and the words are posed as a rhetorical question to the disciples: What shall I say: Father save me from this hour? It’s a rhetorical question because Jesus answers it himself by saying: But it was for this very reason that I came.
This is quite a different approach, there seems to be almost no doubt at all. Jesus approaches his passion as if it were something for which he had long prepared.
He then goes on to say: Father glorify your name. It is as if by asking the Father to glorify his name that Jesus wishes the whole thing to be brought speedily to a conclusion.
This is no Agony in the Garden, this is almost exhilaration or an excited anticipation which is intensified by the extraordinary reply from heaven: I have glorified my name and I will glorify it again.
As an aside, we should note that this is the first time in the Gospel of John that the voice of God is heard; because there is no voice at the Baptism and no account of the Transfiguration.
With this announcement from heaven at such a crucial moment we see the extraordinary closeness between Jesus and the Father, their wills are absolutely united. The self-doubt that is expressed in the Synoptic Gospels is completely and totally absent.
But John lets us know that facing his passion and death will still cost Jesus something, as he says: Now my soul is troubled.
As a priest you see many people face their own death. It is one of the many privileges of this wonderful vocation. These days, however, many people are deprived of the opportunity of experiencing this sacred moment through coma or heavy medication.
Some people are quite naturally very afraid and need reassurance, but you would be surprised at how many do face the prospect of imminent death with great equanimity and faith. They take comfort in the knowledge of the victory Jesus has won for them and in the promises of God.
Jesus faced his death and because of this we can face ours.
Many years ago it was a common Catholic practice to prepare for sleep by preparing one’s self for death. You made a careful examination of conscience and said an act of contrition for all the sins you had committed during that day and in this way you could sleep safe in the knowledge that if you died in the night you were as well prepared as you could be.
Although it could be regarded as out of fashion, this is not a practice to be sneered at; indeed it is something we could all do well to imitate. It is true piety.
But perhaps to conclude we ought to look at the words from the Letter to the Hebrews: During his life on earth Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.
If the same could be said for us we certainly would have no fear when it comes to facing our own death.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket