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The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis
The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis is assistant professor of preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN


A Blip in the Plan

John 12:20-33

5th Sunday in Lent - Year B

March 25, 2012

Relationships are complicated, aren't they? Parents, siblings, friends, in-laws, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, co-workers, children. In quarrels and contradictions and controversies, we seek easy reconciliation. In the midst of the complications, we take them all for granted. In the middle of conflict, we imagine other possibilities. And we are kidding ourselves if we think that it is any different for our relationship with God.

We want simple reconciliation with God. When there are complications, we take God for granted. When we don't get along with God, we wonder who else there could be or what else we could do. What else can give me what I need? What else can satisfy my wants? Who else can answer my demand to see? For some sort of clarity, especially when my soul is troubled and when I feel like I am losing my life and myself and my purpose. Save me. Somebody. Please. I wish to see.

Relationship is at the heart of our Gospel text from John on this last Sunday of Lent, not only for us, but also for Jesus. Ours with God. God's with Jesus. Jesus with us. Because it's about to get a lot more complicated. Really complicated. And really, really hard. And we are all going to want to bail, big time. This transition chapter in John's Gospel, one that could easily be passed over because it's between the raising of Lazarus, from the dead no less, kind of a big deal, and the footwashing and Farewell Discourse, between Jesus' ministry and the hour of his glory--this moment in the story asks us, you want to see Jesus? Are you sure? Well, then, follow me. And we are going to want to look anywhere else but where Jesus will ask us to cast our gaze. There has to be a different way, a different answer, a different plan.

Because it is so not a good plan. And Jesus knows perfectly well what the plan is. That's a problem with John's Jesus. He's a big know-it-all. And we're not quite sure that Jesus knowing everything is the real Jesus, the human Jesus, the Jesus who suffers and dies. The problem with John's Jesus is that he knows just too darn much. And if he knows that much, if he knows the plan, what's the point? Just going through the motions like we do with so many of our relationships? Why be arrested? Why go on trial? Why be executed? To put it bluntly, what's the point of the cross?

And that's the whole point of Jesus' words here in John's Gospel. The point of the cross. Interpreting his death for us. Telling us what it means before it happens. Making sense of something that seems to make no sense--at all. Because we will want to look the other way and then we will not see. It is not unlike the raising of Lazarus. Jesus knew that we would totally not get what it would mean to bring Lazarus back from the dead. So instead of bringing him back and then telling us what it means, he tells us beforehand. Martha thinks that Lazarus will be raised--on the last day.  Ah, no, Martha. That's not what I mean. What I am about to do is not just about your future. It is everything about your present. I am the resurrection AND the life.

You want to see me? You want to know what the cross will be about? Well, let me tell you. It's not about anything you want it to be or need it to be. It's about what God wants it to be and needs it to be.

Yet, we are really quite accomplished at putting a good spin on this, this cross thing. Because it's not where we want to look. Not what we bargained for in this relationship. Way too complicated. If this is the way that God wants to be in relationship with us, well, there has to be something else. Other possibilities. Some other way.

We want simple reconciliation. We want this to be all part of the plan. We want it to be THE plan. We want this to make sense. But it doesn't. And as soon as we explain it or rationalize it or justify it, well, we have made the cross an expectation, a necessitation, a justification. And so, when the hour arrives, Jesus has no choice but to shift our gaze, to put things into focus, to get us to see differently. Because if we want to the cross to be about suffering and how good and necessary and salvific it is, think again. If we think it should be about sacrifice, think again. If we want to view it as some sort of divine initiation, think again. The simple truth is, the cross is a blip in the plan. Yes, I did just say that. I really did.

Everything that is human, everything that becomes incarnated, must die. And this is what God knows in becoming us, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in Jesus. This text does not allow us to explain away the suffering, to justify the pain, or to rationalize a sort of divine/human exchange. Because if we did, our suffering, our pain, our hopes would be for nothing.

But here on this last Sunday of Lent, let's not kid ourselves. We can make every attempt to understand or argue or apologize for Jesus' death on the cross; but if we take it for granted that it is about some sort of divine agreement or placation of our sins, we are sorely mistaken.

What Jesus wants us to know about his death on the cross is nothing else than what has to happen when you are human. The cross is about us because it is what it means to be us. Lest we think that the cross is some sort of ultimate moment of divine atonement, Jesus sets us straight. What becomes human must die. What becomes incarnate, must realize its end. If in the two weeks ahead we think that there is some sort of miracle in Jesus being crucified, well, that's not what Jesus says here.  Do we want some sort of miraculous exchange to occur because Jesus died? Do we need reconciliation so bad that we think it can be that easy? Do we hope that Jesus on the cross will fix everything for us, between us and God, between us and Jesus, between us and every relationship that needs fixing? Think again.

Jesus reminds us here, before Holy Week, before even his parting words to the disciples, that his death is not the end at all. It is no accident that Jesus helps us make sense of the resurrection before he helps us make sense of the cross. The whole order of things is mixed up, turned on its head. Life is death and death is life. The cross is not the answer. It's the question. It's not the moment but a moment in the entire Jesus event, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, that is God so desperately wanting to be in relationship with us. Whatever fixation we have had on the cross, well, here Jesus blows it out of the proverbial water.

Because the cross is not the end. Not a very popular statement two weeks before Good Friday, is it? We need to milk the suffering and death of Jesus for all it's worth, right? Because somehow that would justify our own suffering and pain and explain every relationship that ended in despair and disappointment. But Jesus won't let us go there. And this is no fast track to the resurrection either. Not at all. Just the opposite. The cross is not the end; it's the beginning and was from the beginning. It is about recognizing, accepting, seeing, that God knows a relationship with God is complicated. And that Jesus is no easy answer. Because, it actually matters that God became human, not just that God died. It matters that God wanted to know what it means to live like us and not just die like us. Because a blip in the plan, in the end, was the necessary complication to make life with God now and forever possible.

Let us pray. 

Dear God, we so want to make sense of what happened to you, to justify your death, to make it worthwhile, to insist that it has to mean more than what it was. Yet, today, Jesus, your Son, reminds us that you don't need our justification or rationalization or explanation because your death was all part of what it meant to live, to live like us, with us, and for us. Today we pray that we might let go of what we need the cross to be, so that we can be open to what the cross already is for us, that we might see, finally, that you lived because you died. Amen.

 


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