In a Gospel reading earlier this week, we heard Jesus say: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit… And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12)
These words of Jesus are at the heart of what in means to be Christian. Many Christians see the Cross as God’s punishment. Jesus took on himself all the punishment that God intended to pour out on humans. Jesus never interpreted his Cross in such terms. As he so clearly spoke in the words I just quoted, he died in order to bear fruit of life – not only for himself, when he rose from the dead, but for all humankind. “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to the myself.” When he is lifted up on the Cross, his arms will be stretched and nailed to the horizontal beam of the Cross. There on the Cross, he draws all people to himself. On the cross, the grain of wheat dies but does not remain alone – it bears much fruit, amazing, numberless fruit! He came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10, but all through the Gospel of John.)
But life breeds life. The life we receive from Christ is meant to be spread around, not hoarded! We are called to share the life we receive. That’s why Jesus often said that those who love or save their life will lose it, while those who lose their life for his sake will gain it. For his sake, for the Gospel’s sake, for the sake of what we are experiencing tonight.
Jesus prayed that we might become one – not just one with each other, but one with Jesus and with God (John 17). But this becoming one with God does not mean becoming absorbed into some God-separate-from-the-world. It means standing with God against the values of this world – the values that are against life. It means standing against pride and selfishness and the violence that is all around us. Becoming one with God means becoming one with God’s purposes to recognize the value of all humanity and all creation. For God so loved the world… For lack of a better word, to be one with God means to live a life of resistance – resistance against precisely the values and structures that brought Jesus to the Cross. Because the forces that crucified Christ are still with us, even stronger and more destructive.
The cross “expresses love for the endangered, threatened life of God in our world” (Dorothee Sölle).
“To choose life means to embrace the cross. To embrace the cross today means to grow into resistance. And the cross will turn green and blossom. We survive the cross. We grow in suffering. We are the tree of life” (Dorothee Sölle).
(The above is the prepared text for the sermon on Thursday evening, April 29th, at the Service of the Twelve Gospels, which is Matins of Holy Friday. The full sermon is available as an audio file below.)