20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27 “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. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
I have so enjoyed traveling deeper into the Enneagram world with you this Lent, making the work of spirit practical in our everyday lives- like laundry and relationships and why we do what we do! Thank you for the insightful conversations you’ve offered along the way- my favorite part of worship is to hear what the Spirit stirs in you along the way. We complete our series this Lent by leaning into the story of Christ explaining his suffering to bewildered disciples. Christ’s story is one of true redemption BECAUSE he chose to endure suffering. Not for the sake of pain, but because he believed his death would ultimately bring life to countless others. Our suffering savior. We too, as people living as Christ, have this promise: when we endure suffering, it doesn’t have the final say over us. Not if we trust that following Christ’s way will lead to redemption.
But here’s the rub for me. As a minister who consistently sits alongside people in very real pain, I believe that glorifying pain is wrong. I hear Jesus’ words, “those who hate their life” and I think of people struggling with all forms of mental and spiritual and physical illness- and I think, “Jesus, don’t use that language! Don’t attempt to falsely minimize pain by glorifying struggle in life!”
Yet the discipline of following Jesus means staying tuned into his teachings, even the hard ones. And when we stay attentive, reserving our judgment and bias, we just might hear this parable of a grain of wheat as an invitation to consider our own losses and how they might hold promise of new life.
This is the exact work we’ve been exploring with the Enneagram as our tool this Lent. Jesus embodies vulnerability so that we might be brave to explore our own tender places. Jesus does this very thing in today’s story. Less than a week before Jesus dies at the hands of Romans on a cross, he extends himself to curious newcomers. Three years of itinerant ministry, he had to be exhausted. But he reaches out with a powerful parable about what truly matters in life.
“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.”
Jesus predicts his own fate AND acknowledges that the cycle of life, even for Jesus, inevitably involves pain. The glory Jesus speaks of is not a result of his pain. Pain is pain is pain. Jesus’ life is glorified because he believes in promise beyond pain. And that promise is what gives his life purpose: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” We know this promise in our lives too, thanks to Jesus’ courage to live through pain into promise.
In John, “Fruit” is Jesus’ metaphor for the life of the community of faith. Jesus, like a grain of wheat, offers himself in order to produce a more fruitful kingdom- one in which all people are drawn to his love. That is the promise that assures Jesus his pain on earth will not be as lasting as his glory eternal. And that promise belongs to you and me too. If a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit. With time and grace, loss can actually move us closer to love.
It’s been a painful year for us all. Those who follow our e-news know I’ve asked you to bring your pain to worship today. This week marks a full year since our lives of worship and our lives in general have been stretched to the max, maybe even beyond recognition for some. It’s important that we acknowledge the weight of this year.
As we pause for this moment of silence, I invite you to take one pain in your life- and visualize it as a tiny grain of wheat. Maybe hold it in your hand as you ask Christ to take this pain and hold it with you. Let’s gather in silence. (silence) “If a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit.” I welcome you to release this grain of wheat from your hold- let it fall away, gently, without judgment, as you ask, ‘God, how might you transform my loss into life?” (pause) We don’t have to have the answers today, we live in faith that they will come. Amen.
One of the greatest graces for me in the midst of this pandemic has been you. My church family. You have kept me afloat on days that felt too hard. You have inspired me to envision bigger and bolder changes than I ever could have on my own. You deepen my conviction that when we share the losses and grief of life together, it lessens the burden for all. This is the stuff of faith. This is the way of Christ. This is the promise of hope that will see us through to the other side, where the sweet glow of redemption awaits.
I know the Enneagram may not have been intriguing for all of you this Lent, but I hope that this truth has stirred within you: You ARE capable of co-creating your redemption story with Christ. We all are, because Jesus' promise reigns supreme, even above our deepest pain. He assures you and I today, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Amen and Amen.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.