24 April 2016
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5C (RCL)
Throughout John’s Gospel, we have encountered the themes of glorification, seeking, remaining, love and commandment. We have arrived a point in the Gospel where these themes come together and begin to receive their explication. Immediately prior to this passage, Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and told them that what has been done for them, they are to do for others. He set aside his garments (the same vocabulary he used for “laying down” his life in the Good Shepherd discourse), and then put them back on (the same vocabulary as for taking up his life again). He has just demonstrated what is meant by laying down one’s life and taking it up again. Judas has now left the room, and Jesus says, “Now the son of man has been glorified.” The act of glorification takes in both the foot-washing and Judas’ betrayal.
In Chapter 12, certain Greeks had come up to the festival and come to Philip asking to see Jesus. When Philip and Andrew (both Greek names) come to Jesus, he says, “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.” He then speaks about a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying in order to bear much fruit (which is something he has enjoined the disciples to do). And then the Greeks drop out of the story. We are left wondering what happens to them. This is a question that we must answer (not the evangelist). Jesus’ glorification has something to do with laying down and taking up his life and his garments (washing feet), and with Greeks who wish to see Jesus.
Then Jesus tells his disciples that the is going where they cannot come. In Chapter 14, he will tell them that he is going to prepare a place for him, and if he goes to prepare a place for them he will come and take them to himself. Which is it? Actually, I think the evangelist means that the disciples can’t go there on their own. When Jesus reveals himself to Mary in the garden, he will tell them that he is setting out to his father and our father, his God and our God. Now, we can journey with him, but not before.
And then Jesus gives a new commandment. This puts Jesus on a par with God as law-giver. And that commandment is to love as we have been loved, and by this, the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples — by this the world will know his glory. The son has been glorified and God has been glorified in him, and if God has been glorified in him, God will glorify him (the son) in himself (the son’s self). The phrase “son of man” applies specifically to Jesus but also means simply “the human being.” God has glorified the human being in the human being’s self, through the new commandment of love.
The reading from Revelation carries this theme forward. Now the dwelling (skene) of God is among human beings. The word skene at its root means the canvas backdrop to the Greek tragedies, so something like tent or tabernacle. Phil Sellew argues that the Greek word is derived from the Hebrew shekinah (glory) which resides in the tabernacle. God’s glory tabernacles among humanity in the new commandment of love. In Revelation, the new Jerusalem has no Temple. This certainly fits with the Johannine idea that the resurrected Jesus is the new Temple, and the resurrected Jesus dwells within the community of love.
The question left unanswered by the Gospel — what happens to those Greeks? — must be answered by us. Will we admit them to the community of revelatory love? To do so means that the grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die, in order to bear much fruit. We will have to lay down our lives for others (surrender our dearly held ethnic, cultural, class identities), in order to take them up again in new configurations of the community of love.