Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
There must always be a death. I didn’t really understand this when I was younger. When you are young, all the options of life seem available to you. You bounce around on the playground jumping from astronaut to cowboy to police officer to president. They all seem likely and possible. And why not? Your imagination knows no bounds. Your options seem unlimited, and everyone around you encourages you to dream and become the best you can be. However, no one tells you then that to become the best means first a kind of death. No one tells you then, that all those options must die if you want to truly have life in one of them. They also don’t tell you that any success comes through a kind of death. Death to the wild freedom of an untamed schedule. Death to eating whatever you want. Death to getting your way. Death to all the other things you could have been to be the one thing you are. In other words, a seed can only go into the ground at one place.
I did a wedding this year for a beautiful couple. The joy shining out of their faces felt like Moses coming off the mountain. They were radiantly in love. The text for their wedding homily was the one above. It’s a bizarre choice for a wedding. Normally couples will take a passage about love within the church and co-opt it to their romantic feelings. John 12, however, is unambiguously non-romantic. It smarts with the often-grizzly business of following Jesus. It’s about dying. Self-denial. Eternality. And above all, Jesus’ death. The passage could have killed the happiness of the moment. Yet it didn’t because through the vows of any wedding, there is first, by necessity, a kind of death. Two people promise to put aside their own desires, their own interests, and their very selves to have and to hold someone else, when it is easy or hard. In other words, the two must die to become one. And this, as Paul says, this mystery of marriage and of covenantal union, is the mystery of Christ and His church. Christ dies to Himself at the cross on our behalf to unite us to Him as one. He asks us to follow Him, and it is glorious.
The hour of Jesus’ glory in the Gospel of John is always His death upon the cross. It seems strange that a death would be glorious. But it never is for a seed. The glory of the seed is always the plant it produces, and so too of Christ, our cosmic seed. He burns most brightly in His death and resurrection, because it proclaims to us all His eternal commitment to not lose us. He will not let us go. He will not abandon us, even if that means He must be abandoned and forsaken. He did not hold tightly to His own life; He held tightly to ours. And all those who follow in His way, they will do the same. The way of Christ on the cross and in the tomb show us that sin and death are conquered not by violence, but by voluntarily walking into death by self-sacrifice and self-giving. He willingly goes into the ground for us and takes what kills us with Him. He does it for the joy of having us, being united to us as one; A joy that burns like Moses’ face coming off the mountain.
And what does that kind of voluntary death bring? Resurrection. Christ could not be kept in the tomb. So too being united to Him, we will not be kept in the tomb. As Peter tells us, we have been born again, not of perishable seed, not the seed that has gone into the ground, but the imperishable seed of the Risen Christ. Our hope is eternal. Death cannot undo us. Self-sacrifice cannot break us. The life of God in us is the life of the eternal undying God. To walk in His path is to give of ourselves for others – Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman - in joy, knowing that God will not let us go. He has proven that by going into the ground with our sin for us. He has shown us new life by rising from the dead. Death, even in dying, is not our end for we are, even now, hid with Christ on high awaiting our final consummation.