29 March 2009/Lent 5B – Hebrews 5:5-10/John 12: 20-33
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
The Divine Kernel of Being
Some Greeks, that is gentiles, ask Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This is what we all want. This is why we are here week after week. We wish to see Jesus. For somehow we know, we suspect, we intuit, that if we see Jesus we will see what Meister Eckhart might call “The Divine Kernel of Being” – that Divine Spark of God’s essence, God’s imago Dei, the image in which we are created. We seem to know that in seeing Jesus we just might find something essential about ourselves.
Jesus and company are in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, the busiest time of year. Jews from all over the world were making the pilgrimage to be there, as well as curious gentiles, seekers, tourists, and thanks to John the Evangelist we are there too. Just prior to this episode God in Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, Judas complained of the extravagance of this loving act, and Jesus has made his Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – commonly referred to as Palm Sunday.
Response to these events is widely divided between those who wish to see Jesus, and those who plot to destroy him. The latter would appear to be in the employ of the “ruler of this world,” elsewhere identified with Satan and all the “evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” as we say at our Baptism. We know who they are.
Jesus begins a somewhat mysterious speech that hinges on the natural life of a grain or kernel of wheat, “the corn of wheat” as the British and the King James have it. Kernels or seeds generally have a hard shell protecting the germ of new life within. Once in the ground it must “die” to its current state, literally be broken open, so that new life may emerge and bear much fruit. This kernel is a miraculous powerhouse of potential “much fruit,” a notion to which we have become perhaps too inured. Like the action of a few grains of yeast in dough or in the brewers art, the fruitfulness of one grain of seed must have seemed a mighty act of God’s generosity to all the people’s of the ancient world – the very same people we hear later Jesus intends to draw to himself – “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
And he cries, “Father, glorify your name.” And a voice from heaven replies, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” This is said, we are told, for our sake, not his. This is why John brings us into this story, placing us in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover with a few Greeks who wish to see Jesus, so that we may hear the voice of God.
It is still a wonder to behold, how the smallest of things can yield such bounty. It has been calculated that if one kernel of corn is planted yielding just forty new kernels, and those forty planted, and so on, that in a mere six years that one kernel will yield as many seeds as there are human beings on this planet – all from just one seed! What if we are that seed for Jesus?
Can we begin to see how it is that Jesus is able to turn this prediction, assertion really, of his impending death in Jerusalem into a parable of hope not just for you and for me, but a parable of bountiful hope for the whole world – a world which he promises to draw to himself?
Sir, we wish to see Jesus! How fortunate for us that we find ourselves in the presence of God’s word in the so-called Letter to the Hebrews where in the space of a mere six verses we are given as concentrated a view of the germ, the essence, the kernel of just who this Jesus is – which gives us a glimpse of ourselves. So as to clarify again, Jesus does not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but is appointed by the one who spoke at his baptism, “You are my son.” And, we are told, also says, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
I remember oh so well being on silent retreat in a Victorian building in Racine, Wisconsin, suitable as a home for the Adams Family, contemplating these very words. Melchizedek arrives from we know not where in Genesis chapter 14 as a Priest and King (King of Peace) who brings bread and wine to Abraham – the elemental nourishment of the Eucharist – and gathers Abraham’s tithe and bears it to the altar. This is the first mention of the Tithe, the first of the Four Holy Habits, in the Bible! Then Melchizedek rides off mysteriously we know not where never to be mentioned again until here in Hebrews as a prototype of Jesus – a declaration, perhaps, that Jesus’ priesthood is unique, without precedent or succession!
And this High Priest of ours, unlike Caiaphas we are told, offers “up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission...he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” There we are again, included in the text of this most sublime, dense, inscrutable and divine of all epistles – we, his obedient servants by baptism.
It speaks of Jesus’ deep solidarity with humanity – a humanity which continues to know sufferings, a humanity that continues to pray with loud cries and tears. The divine author of this epistle declares that our God who hears these prayers is not absent from our sufferings, but is present in the midst of sufferings – and yet, is not overcome by them, promising to draw us up as he is lifted from the tomb into the eternal habitations from whence he came.
Here is a priest who does not offer a lamb or a dove or a pair of small birds, nor bread or wine, nor any atonement for sin. In the presence of God this priest of ours offers weeping and screaming in the lifting up of our prayers and the prayers of all humankind. His passion for God and his passion for us is God’s love for all humanity and all creation, for each one of us in which he places the kernel of His imago Dei – the Divine Kernel of our Being.
Biblical theologian Walter Wink has said, “…history belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.” The priest according to the order of Melchizedek is the one who intercedes for us – who believes the future out ahead of us, and who lights the way into it for all those of us willing to follow him, for “where I am there will my servant be also.”
The Jesus we wish to see is the bearer of a fundamental message of hope grounded in God’s profound love for the world, “for God so loves the world that God gives his only begotten son, so that those who believe in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Is it any wonder they wish to see Jesus? Is it any wonder that we are here? All it takes, said Jesus, is as much faith as a grain of mustard seed, the tiniest of all the seeds. The gift of a seed of faith is ours today should we plant it in our hearts, tend it, and let it take root. Allow the hard shell of the kernel to be broken open, and the Love of God in Christ to bathe the germ of new life in your heart, and all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed
You can take trees and hurl them in the sea/
You can take trees and hurl them in the sea
The lame will walk and the blind will see/
The lame will walk and the blind will see
Wars will cease with the end of greed/
Wars will cease with the end of greed
Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed/
Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed
As you sow you shall receive/
As you sow you shall receive
As you pray you will believe/
As you pray you will believe
Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need/
Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need
As you follow Christ you’ll begin to lead/
As you follow Christ you’ll begin to lead