Our gospel presents us with 2 striking ways of thinking about the events that we are about to celebrate in Holy Week and Eastertide. The first is the image of a grain of wheat falling into the ground then yielding a rich harvest.
The second way of thinking about the events of the Lord’s Passover comes from the end of our gospel reading. It is a thought we also had last week from much earlier in St. John’s Gospel, so it must have been something our blessed Saviour said throughout His ministry. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men o myself.” Last week the Lord said to Nicodemas, “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life.”
This striking image of lifting up makes the same point as the grain of wheat. The grain of wheat is planted in the ground and apparently dies and then it sprouts up with a new green shoot growing up to a rich harvest. Despite appearances, something positive is happening. Our Sweet Saviour says the same thing when He describes His Passover as a lifting up. It looks like a series of failures leading to one great tragedy. The crowds that shout “hosanna” at the start of next Sunday’s Mass will shout “Crucify” before we even get as far as the Creed. Jesus seems to fail to win the hearts and minds of the Pharisees and the Temple authorities. One of His own disciples, one of the Twelve, sells Him out. Peter denies Him. Pilate washes his hands of the so called Christ from Galilee and sends Him to His cross. After a gruesome execution the Son of Man is hastily buried in a borrowed grave.
Yet in advance of all this human suffering and pointing us firmly beyond Good Friday to Eastertide, Jesus Christ talks about these events as His Lifting Up. This must become a lens through which to look at the Christian Passover, the Lens of the Lifting Up. We must learn to see that apparent tragedy is only part of a bigger picture. We must see that it is not just on the saving wood of the Cross that this upward movement is to be sought. It is still there as the body is laid in the tomb and Christ’s soul and divinity descend to the realm of the dead. This is the harrowing of hell, ploughing open the graves of people of faith who had not lived to see the Messiah come. The drawing of people to Himself is going on unseen during the quiet hours of Holy Saturday. He is extending His Passover mystery back through time as well as establishing it to endure through time.
Once we learn to look through the Lens of the Lifting Up we can see this same dynamic continuing beyond the resurrection to embrace the Ascension and Pentecost. But we can also turn this Lens upon ourselves and our experience of living the Christian life. We are on an upward journey towards heaven, and the apparent failures and tragedies we encounter must be looked upon as part of our lifting up to join the Lord. The deaths of loved ones are painful and immensely difficult for us, but death is a necessary part of each Christian’s journey towards heaven. The Lens of the Lifting Up helps us to see this through our tears.
Through our tears for the Good Shepherd’s passion, we can sing, “Glory be to Jesus, Who in bitter pains”. We can and we will celebrate His suffering and death as Good Friday, a day not so much of red blood and black looks but of purple and gold., a king lifted up to draw us towards Himself.
We must learn one other thing from this gospel and that is simply to lift up the crucified and risen Christ through our lives so that this upward movement of salvation can be extended to other people also. I do not mean that we must wave crucifixes or statues of the risen Lord at people on soap boxes at the corner of Manchester Road. What I mean is that our living of the Catholic Faith must proclaim Christ as our King and our hope and patience in the face of suffering must reveal to others the unique view we gain through the Lens of the Lifting Up. AMEN.