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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The lectionary readings for March 25 dovetail nicely with Pastor's plans to preach on Mark 15, which tells of the Crucifixion of Jesus:

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:1-13 (Psalm 51:1-12 NRSV)

or Psalm 119:9-16

Hebrews 5:5-10

John 12:20-33


This verse is my favorite of the lectionary Gospel for this week: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (verse 24). I have a rather Disneyfied vision of a seed who desperately resists change, who wants life to continue as normal. "Let me have the familiar. Don't force me to change."

But that seed doesn't see that it lives alone in the dark, damp earth. It thinks life is fine, because it has never known anything else. It thinks life is fine, because it doesn't have a vision of anything else. How can it? It lives all alone in the dark, damp earth.

Only by letting go (however painful that might be) of its current life, will that little seed find itself transformed. That seed, in its current form, must die, so that it can be reborn into a much more glorious life. That seed, once it lets go, once it faces death, will break through into a life of sunshine. That seed, once it lets go, will find much company. It will bear fruit, which means it has fulfilled its biological imperative--it has gotten its genes into the next generation.

The most obvious way of interpreting this passage is to see it as being about death and Heaven. Eventually, we die and break out of our existential loneliness by joining our loved ones in Heaven.

But perhaps this passage gives us a deeper insight.

Certainly, we see a vision of Christ, who is troubled (according to traditional interpretation) by his impending death. That seed represents Christ's death as well as our own. If Christ had just lived quietly into old age, preaching and teaching, it's a pretty safe bet that you and I wouldn't be Christians. It is only by Jesus' death and rebirth that Christianity can flourish.

We might also think about how that seed could represent our current lives. What part of your life do you need to let die, so that you can be transformed into something glorious? Past visions of Christianity stressed the glories we could look forward to in the afterlife, yet Christ comes to live with us to show us how we can live now, how we can make the Kingdom manifest on earth now.

We spend much of our lives in the dark, damp earth--and that earth can be a metaphor for many things--what imprisons us? Is it our tendency towards anger? despair? Does the dark stand for the substances we abuse? Does the dirt represent the behaviors that keep us from fulfilling our true potential as Christians?

Before you plunge into sadness about all the ways you've fallen short, take heart. Remember that the dirt is also a nourishing medium. Seeds won't grow without dirt. All that dirt has gone a long way to protecting you for that time when you're ready to bloom.

God's vision for us is not one that keeps us muffled and buried and alone in the mud. All we have to do is to die.

That sounds so harsh. And yet, it is what is required of us. Much of our New Testament stresses that fact. Being a Christian requires that our old life dies. Otherwise, we won't flower and flourish like we should.

In keeping with the seed metaphor, perhaps I should have said, all we have to do is shuck off the husk of our former lives. All we have to do is to have the faith to face transformation.

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