Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2015
It was spring festival time in Jerusalem. The city streets were awash with tourists and pilgrims. The Temple was crammed with people coming to both worship and sightsee, from all over the Empire. Visiting Gentiles had heard about the Galilean rabbi who had created a stir, parading into the city like a king after reputedly raising a man from the dead. They wanted a glimpse of the celebrity. Someone pointed to Philip and suggested that he was one of the Galilean's friends; his Greek name suggests that he spoke their language. So they tugged on his sleeve and said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus."
We want to see Jesus.
At this moment in the Gospel story Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the last time. The first 11 chapters of John, known as the Book of Signs, tell us who Jesus is. The Word became flesh, John says, and dwelt among us. And as he dwelt among us Jesus revealed his divinity by turning water into wine, healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, walking on the water, healing the blind, and finally raising Lazarus from the grave. Death to life, darkness to light, blindness to sight: these are the themes of the Gospel. Jesus speaks to the spiritual blindness of his own people when he says, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."
Now, in this second half of the Gospel, we are given the Book of Glory: the story of how Jesus walks into the darkness, going willingly and knowingly to his death, so that he will draw all people to himself. Right now he's a rock star. The crowds are going after him: they seek him out and they want to believe in him. They want to see Jesus. But the leaders of his community take up stones to kill him and plot to have him arrested and executed. They remain blind; they do not want to see Jesus.They do not see who he is.
Just a couple of verses before the Greeks' request, the Pharisees have been wringing their hands and complaining that the whole world is following Jesus, and now John offers evidence that his fame has indeed spread beyond the Jewish community. It's perhaps a measure of the mounting tension and danger around Jesus that the disciples don't immediately take the tourists to their master, but they confer with one another and then consult him. Even then, it's not clear that the Gentiles ever receive a response to their request. It seems to be a big deal, to be allowed to see Jesus.
Celebrities are of course often protected from public contact, sometimes for their own safety, sometimes for an arrogant sense of exclusivity. But Jesus didn't usually shy away from crowds or even undesirables: it's one of the things that we love about him, that he was and is so willing to be vulnerable, to hang out with all the wrong people. So why did these visitors have to practically submit an application in order to see Jesus? Or is John, in this brief anecdote, simply providing a voice for a question that needs to be heard? A question that expresses a longing that rings down the ages. Faithful people and outsiders alike have ever said, "We want to see Jesus." We all want to see Jesus.
That is our purpose as the church: to see Jesus, and to allow others to see Jesus in us.
Where shall we find him? We can't just walk up to one of his disciples and request an appointment.
Like those Gentiles visiting the Temple, we are all strangers, pilgrims, traveling through life. We wander down roads of sorrow, loneliness, confusion, seeking purpose, seeking unconditional love, seeking someone who will help us discover meaning in our lives. We want to seek light in the darkness. We want to see Jesus.
We long to see Jesus.
We look for Jesus in the right places and in the wrong places: in our families, in our friendships, in our professions, in our addictions. We struggle through the messiness of our relationships and our own sin, trying to discern the face of Jesus in those we want to be rescued by or in the people we most admire.
Where do we find him?
We come to church, and we say "We want to see Jesus". In some ways he is easy to find here.
We see him on the Cross, suffering as in the west window, or triumphant, as in the cross over the altar. We see him superimposed for better or worse on the person of the celebrant at the communion table. We see him in the blessed bread and wine of the sacrament. But do we see him in the person sitting next to us in the pew? Do we see him in the family member we are fighting with? Do we see him in the fragrant individual who comes to use the Showers of Blessing on a Saturday morning? Do we see him in the server at the restaurant? Do we see him in the politician or the commentator on TV? Do we see him in the suffering face of our abused planet? Do we see Jesus when we look in the mirror?
We want to see Jesus. And so do others. There is another way for us to hear this request, and that is as the church, hearing the stranger, the seeker, the skeptic who looks to see Jesus in the face of this insititution. When the stranger comes to the door of the church and says, "I want to see Jesus", what do we show her? Do we go into a huddle to discuss whether this person is eligible or worthy to see Jesus? Do we have an answer? How do we show Jesus to our neighbors, to San Diego, to the world? How accessible is Jesus at St. Paul's?
Our Vision for Mission committee is starting to work on goals and objectives. We know our mission is to love Christ, to serve others, and to welcome all. Now, how will we live out that mission: in our worship, in our formation, in our community, in our outreach, in our identity as the Cathedral for the Diocese and the City? How easy can we make it for others to see Jesus in the life of this place? That's the challenge before us, and I am confident that the group of bright, creative people who make up the Vision for Mission group will come up with some brilliant ideas.
The letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus as a high priest. In ancient Judaism, the high priest was the only person permitted to enter the central chamber of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, and then only on certain days. The high priest had to enter alone, unprotected from a dangerous and powerful deity. It was the loneliest of places. For Jesus, as the ultimate high priest, the Holy of Holies is the sacred space of his sacrificial death, the sacred space of the Cross. Its loneliness is appalling - even God is absent, as we learn from Jesus's cry of dereliction, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" The high priest enters the holy place in fear and trembling, but he goes willingly because it is his vocation. Jesus admits that his soul is troubled, but he goes willingly; he teaches that the way to receive eternal life is to let go of your life, to let it fall into the earth so that you may be born again and bear much fruit. The path to life lies through death; the hour of death is the hour of glory.
These next two weeks will take us to the Cross. Here at the Cathedral we have all kinds of special activities: parades, footwashing, Vigils and fiestas, along the way. There are lots of distractions, rather like Jerusalem at Passover was full of distractions when those Greeks asked to see Jesus. We are called to serve others as we would serve Jesus and so to follow Jesus regardless of the distractions, to keep our eyes fixed on him, the light of the world, so that we can share him with others, as he walks towards Calvary and the darkness of Good Friday.
"Sir, we want to see Jesus". He is here, he is among us and within us, he is leading the way forward, and we can show him to the world.
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges