A reflection on John 12:27-29 Hours don't pass evenly like the rhythm of chimes on a grandfather clock. They speed by and then pull up to a halt. Some stretch out long enough to wrap around our hearts and live in memory while others are a still life shot that flashes into our brains every now and then. Most hours fade into the sweet forgotten by and by of our past. To me, an hour is like a long short story. It’s long enough to soak through lentils, but doesn’t last long enough to soften black beans. We can fly to Florida in an hour, drive to Manchester, get diagnosed, or be freed.
As Lent creeps toward Good Friday we move with Jesus to what is known as the Gethsemane of John. It is where Jesus says that finally, his hour has come. So many hours have passed since the beginning of this Gospel where he described what it means to be so loved. There have been hours where he has healed, retreated, grieved his friend Lazarus, and been anointed for burial. We all know what he means when he says the hour has come. He means that of all the hours of his life, the hour of his death has come.
This is the climax and the culmination of what it means to so love. He tries to explain it by using the example of a grain of wheat that must fall to produce a greater yield. This is the hour where what we have lived for becomes how we are remembered. This reading is the prelude to his farewell discourse where he says there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. We are called to live for love and pray we die glorifying love.
Two thousand years and 17 million hours later this truth has not changed. To live and die for love is the essence of discipleship. Death is the hour that seals our life and that we fear and face. We are put on this earth preparing to die. Death is the returning to ashes like the seed to the earth. That hour is the climax, and what Jesus teaches us is that even in that hour Love can be glorified.
Our Lenten journey is coming to an end, and like all journeys, it is right that it ends with a reflection on death. We began a month ago on the edge of the Lenten wilderness, praying for a revival of the heart. The prayer is that we make the journey while wrestling demons and seeing angels so that we can explode with “Alleluia!” by Easter. But I almost forgot that to get there we have to walk through this hour, not just in scripture but in our lives. When we accept this hour, we live and die to glorify love. It is hard to reflect on this, especially as all the fruit trees are blooming and the larkspur are rejoicing. But it is a gift when we can hear it as good news, as part of the gift of love. It is a gift to see this spring in the context of the sweet seeds of fall that were buried in the cold earth to give this new life such beauty and abundance.
Jesus reminds us in this Gospel that this is the holiest of hours. It is the hour we walk closest to our creator and hold on to the truth. All of us who have grieved loved ones know how hard it is to make it through this holy hour. It is so powerful that for a long time it eclipses all the other hours. It is the hour we sit through like labor and count breaths and watch and wait and pray and pray and pray. It is the hour we anticipate and fear in the middle of the night when shadows seem real and prayers feel hollow. It is the hour that is as hard and disillusioning as witnessing Love hanging from the crucifixes of our lives. In our lives of faith that hour still stands between us and Easter.
I have witnessed folks these past few weeks glorify their hour. There is a man who came to the Chapel for ashes on Ash Wednesday, and the next day his aorta exploded. He endured a 15 ½ hour surgery and a horrible infection that put him back on death’s doorstep in the ICU days later. Last week he said, "They thought I would die. I thought I would die, but this morning, lying here, watching the rain hit the window I have realized it doesn't get any better than this. I know that sounds crazy, and maybe I should want other things, but truly, I feel like listening to this rain, at this moment, it doesn't get better.” His eyes were filled with love that poured out in sweet streams on his cheeks. He had broken the hourglass and was living in an eternal moment where he saw it was filled with grains of sand that taken alone were enough to contemplate the wonder of the universe itself.
I have heard from others facing troubling hours from diagnosis, prison, death or separation talk about gratitude.I heard about an old friend who died alone in New York, and it seems like the hardest hour I can imagine. No one knows when her hour was or about all the circumstances, because it took so long to discover the body that they could only identify her by her tattoos. She was a fighter and a poet. I pray that in her hour that if her mind traveled in and out of all the hours she lived, it drifted to her years in Nashville with Magdalene and Thistle Farms and that she felt beloved even as she was alone in that hour. This Gospel assures me that in her hour she was lifted up and love didn't abandon her.
We can take even this hour, knowing that love is stronger and speaks the last word. It cannot be wiped out, just lifted up. The hour can be lived in this moment and stretched out to eternity, as we say, “It doesn't get better than this.” Being able to glorify love is not out of our reach. It's as close as your next thought to live for love right now. That is the revival of Lent—meeting our death in the wilderness and walking through it, and then living every hour with gratitude.