Homily preached by Fr Tom Hurcombe
on Tuesday 7th April 2020 (Tuesday of Holy Week)
Isaiah 49.1–7; Psalm 71.1–8; 1 Corinthians 1.18–31; John 12.20–36
In John’s gospel, the build up to Holy Week is different to the other three gospels.
The event that’s most different in John is the raising of Lazarus, who lives in Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem, just over the Mount of Olives with Mary and Martha his sisters. As we heard in yesterday’s gospel, Jesus is anointed with ‘nard’ at a dinner at their house, not by an anonymous woman but by Mary, Lazarus’ sister.
Then, Jesus is welcomed into the city with palms, as on Palm Sunday. ‘Many believe in him’, though in five minutes, well, a couple of days, they will all turn against him and be baying for his blood.
A key verse is the verse just before our gospel begins, where the authorities complain that he’s so popular that ‘the whole world’ is going after him. No sooner have they said that than in the next verse, the first in our reading today, some ‘Greeks come, wanting to see Jesus’. Whether they are Gentiles fascinated by Judaism, or full proselytes to the Jewish faith, or simply Greek speaking Jews (like Paul) has been debated among scholars – let’s not get stuck there. They represent ‘outsiders’ – ‘the world’ -whom God ‘so loves’, you might recall. Is Jesus finally going to succeed, and everyone become his followers? You and I know the answer to that question – ‘No’. But Jesus responds to the arrival of the Greeks in a remarkable way.
‘Right, that’s it!’ He has said several times he couldn’t do things because his ‘hour had not yet come’. Well, now it has. And for a moment Jesus, who always seems to be in control of events in John’s gospel; at his trial it’s hard to tell if Pilate is trying Jesus or Jesus Pilate; or when he takes his time, instead of hurrying to Lazarus’ aid, seems rather over-controlling. But when he arrives at Bethany he weeps for his friend Lazarus, and now he is brought up short again: his heart is ‘very troubled’; at the terror of what he knows will inevitably happen.
But he’s not going to give in, He knows what this really means – his ‘lifting up’. His cruel, agonising death. But that moment is also his ‘glorification’ his apotheosis (if someone who is already God can be deified). In John it’s as though the Transfiguration, the crucifixion, the resurrection and ascension all happen at once in the same event. Indeed, as at the Transfiguration God interrupts dramatically, here.
We are on a journey with Jesus in this Holy Week, we follow the way of the cross to experience Easter.
And our wait is frustrated this year: when we get to Easter we can’t experience the actual bread and wine of the new, resurrection covenant. We can experience it ‘virtually’, which to me means ‘almost’.
But we wait for the time when we eat and drink it again in the kingdom of God, which we are part of and anticipate; but we also wait in the present world, for when this lockdown is over.