Fifth Sunday in Lent

Sooner or later death comes to all of us. For a while it may step aside and let us go on our way. Perhaps you have narrowly escaped being in a fatal car accident, or been saved from a life-threatening disease by modern medicine, or been in the right place at the right time to snuff out the beginnings of a deadly fire in your home. Your hour had not yet come.

Jesus also narrowly escaped death several times.  King Herod sent soldiers to kill the Christ-child. The disbelieving people of Nazareth pushed Jesus to the edge of a cliff in an attempt to throw him over. Once Jesus was in a boat that came close to sinking under the violent waves of lake Galilee. Twice angry people in Jerusalem took up rocks to stone him, but Jesus escaped from their hands.

  Eventually, however, death will not step aside to let us pass by. It will stand in our way, unavoidable, paying no attention to our cries or our bargaining.  It might come suddenly, as in an airplane crash, or slowly from a brain tumor. One thing is certain, it comes for us all, timely or untimely.

When death came to stand adamantly in Jesus’ way he was at the height of his popularity. People were calling him the King of Israel. Pharisees said to one another, “Look, the world has gone after him.” Andrew and Philip, bring the first two Greeks to meet Jesus who says, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.” The apostles rejoice in the glory Jesus is receiving. 

But Jesus has a different type of glory in mind. Not glory from people, but the glory he will receive from his Father after laying down his life to save us from the second death which is hell.  So, Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled.” The hidden approach of death stirred his natural desire to avoid it. All the more because of the kind of death facing him: scourging at a pillar, crowning with thorns, spit upon and slapped, his wounds torn open when brutally stripped of his bloodied clothes on Golgatha, crucified with large nails, then left to die of pain, thirst, and suffocation, surrounded in his nakedness by jeers, laughter, and mockery. In the face of such a death Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him.

In the letter to the Hebrews we read that “His prayer was heard.”  Well, his prayer wasn’t heard if it means that Jesus was saved from dying. No, he was saved after dying. Jesus overcame death by rising from death. His prayer was answered by his resurrection.

Andrew and Philip didn’t understand. So, Jesus told them a parable. “Truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Dying is the way we follow Jesus to new life so that we can be with him forever.

We all have our own pains, sicknesses, loneliness, sorrows, anguish and hardships. These are our personal passions. And some day we will die. But if we have been nourished by the grains of wheat that have multiplied in the Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of Christ, we will not be alone when we die. Christ living within us will draw us to himself.  It will be our happiest hour, when we step away from this life into the joy of eternal life. In this Eucharist we now celebrate our thanksgiving for our present life and for the life to come.