5 Lent 12
Do you hate your life? There are certainly parts of our lives that we are not too happy about, that we could do without. But we love life. We cling to life. We consider its alternative (no life) to be a horrendous prospect.
Yet today Jesus says, “Those who love their life will loose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for the age to come.” This is certainly one of the more hard sayings of Jesus. What is it that Jesus wants us to know and to learn from what he is saying?
Jesus does not leave us any quarter for fudging. He speaks to us starkly and frankly. He was quite famous for this. Sometimes when he spoke like this, people walked away from him. “This guy is nutty,” they thought. We can't follow someone who talks like this.
The words that Jesus is using here are more subtle that we tend to see at first glace. As John tells it, Jesus does not use the Greek word for “life” as the force within us that keeps us alive. He uses the Greek term “psyche” which is not the equivalent to our use of the term psyche by which we mean mind or our mental process. This is technical but bear with me.
The term “psyche” as Jesus uses it means more “the self.” So he who loves himself will loose himself might be a more apt way to translate this verse. But this is somewhat problematic too since we are asked to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Modern psychology encourages us to have a good “self image” and to take good care of ourselves so that we can be more caring towards others.
Getting away from “Psychology Today” though, the message here is quite straightforward. Jesus clarifies it by talking about the seed, which in order to give life must undergo a kind of death. It falls into the ground, dies and then bears fruit.
Jesus is, as St. John says, talking about his passion here. He understands profoundly that he is facing death on the cross but that this death will bear much fruit.
Jesus asks us to follow him in this death. To be like the seed. To be like him. To die to self.
In order to do this we must make up our minds that the life we envision for ourselves, that we'd love to have for ourselves is not the life that God is calling us to. He is calling us to join Jesus, to join God himself, in the kind of love he has for others. This is the life he wants us to see and to live. Not the self life but the seed/dying life that will bear fruit.
Jesus is asking us to give up our vision of our life and to adopt his approach, one of self giving.
So the message we hear today is totally consistent with the message of the gospel that we hear throughout the year. As John the Baptist says, “We must decrease and he must increase.”
I know you understand this because I see self giving and self sacrifice in all of your lives. But in the Easter season, we are asked to take this to a new level. To look at Jesus and to answer his call that “that he who serves me must follow me” and “that where I am, there my servant will be also.”
This is indeed a hard saying, that we must die to ourselves and find new, deeper ways, to love others in order to be a true follower of Jesus. But the promise is amazingly great. Jesus says, “Whoever serves him, the Father will honor.” Imagine being honored by God. It is enough when we are honored by our family, friends or by the community. Imagine being honored by God. It is a promise that must fill us with peace and well being, being honored by the Father.
One of the ways we can go about this is to enter more deeply into the Easter mysteries. Next Sunday we begin Holy Week with Palm Sunday.
When we look at Holy Week, sometimes we think, “All this is what happened to Jesus.” What Holy Week is really about is what happens to us. Jesus undergoes his passion and death. He gloriously rises on Easter. This is what happened to him.
But Holy Week is about what happened to us because of what Jesus did and what is continuing to happen in our lives.
On Palm Sunday we will join in proclaiming Jesus King and Messiah. But shortly, as the crowd did, we will turn away from him and take our part in his crucifixion. We don't want this. We certainly don't intend it. But on Palm Sunday we are reminded how fickle we can be. We need to know this because we need to cry out for help and grace to follow Jesus more closely.
On Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday, we will join Jesus' closest friends at dinner. We will be present as Jesus gives us what we lovingly call “the Most Blessed Sacrament.” We will be there as the old rites are transformed into the new. The transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament takes place right before eyes. “This is My Body. This is My Blood. Given for you and for many.” Our faith is established as our inward vision makes everything clear.
We join in the foot washing. We come to understand, just as the disciples did, the new commandment to love one another. And by the bread we receive which has come down from heaven we receive the strength to live out this commandment.
Finally on Holy Thursday we are present as the Passover Rite begins to flow into the Passion which is about to be completed. We identify the true Passover Lamb who is silent and opens not his mouth. We begin to see that “by his stripes, we are healed.” We are healed. This is what is happening to us.
We symbolize all this by the striping the altar and by placing the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar of Repose. We gaze at the Altar of Repose fainting and weak kneed as we realize how deep, how wide, how long God's love for us is.
On Good Friday we enter the stark chapel to listen to the Passion. This year we will be stunned as we hear the words of the Passion sung. We come to the realization that every little death we experience and even ultimately our own death, now has no sting, has no power because he died for us. We understand God's glory in new way. Oh death, where is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?
Now we know what this dying to self means, because of Jesus. In our baptism, as we enter the water, we die with him. And we rise. We rise with him to new resurrection life.
On Saturday night, we celebrate the Vigil. This is our true Passover. Here we pass from death to life. We participate in Jesus' resurrection. We receive our own resurrection life. The New Fire and the Pascal Candle symbolize these things. Fire was part of creation. Fire was present at the Burning Bush. Fire consumed the old sacrifices. The Holy Ghost comes in the form of fire on Pentecost. The New Fire burns away our old self and lights the darkness. We light the Pascal Candle which is the pillar of fire. In the Candle, we see the Light of Christ, a beacon in a dark world. As Israel crossed the waters of the Red Sea following the pillar of fire, we follow the Pascal Candle through the waters of our own baptism. As we die with him, we also rise with him. This is happening to us.
We stop and hear the words of the ancient Exsultet sung. Through the beautiful voice of the cantor, we join our own voices in praise and love for the risen Christ.
Then we listen again to the old story being retold in the Vigil Reading. At the culmination of the Vigil Service, we renew of our Baptism. We are washed again. We are cleansed again. We are risen again.
All this happens to us during Holy Week. We cannot stay away from these events. They are too important for our life.
If we want to follow Jesus more closely, here we have the prefect chance.