Lifting High the Cross

Lifting High the Cross

(John 12:1-7; 20-35)

Some describe John’s gospel as ‘The Book of Signs’ where time and again, we see John choosing not necessarily to report on just historical details as using those historical details to give us glimpses/signs that point to a deeper understanding of just who Jesus was and is, and so to what his life, death, resurrection are meant to be understood to mean for us – in our everyday lives. As we move through Lent towards Easter (Palm Sunday next week, then Holy Week followed by Easter) our focus is going to be on the cross!

John begins this chapter 12 of today’s readings by describing a deeply poignant event that
demonstrates the character of love which Jesus was soon to be exposing with the whole ‘event’ of Easter. We find Jesus in Bethany, at dinner in the home of Lazarus, where John describes someone named Mary acting out a sign of selfless devotion, an act demonstrating what all poured-out love always does to him: it’s like washing his feet with our perfume and tears and drying them with our hair.

We’re not sure who this Mary was: She was either the sister of Martha and Lazarus in whose home Jesus was at dinner, or she was someone else. It seems that John was drawing from two similar accounts of foot-washing and anointing where we are told of ‘an unknown sinner’ who came to bless Jesus in this way – someone Jesus later explained as only able to ‘love much because she had been forgiven much’. Legend suggests that this ‘someone else’ had been a sex worker, based on the very expensive nard of perfume which she broke open and poured out at Jesus’ feet. Perfume was apparently a mark of a sex worker’s trade. If that is at all true, then John was wanting us to understand that the ‘breaking open’ of that container onto Jesus’ feet is especially poignant, as it represented the emptying out of herself – her giving up of a previously compromised identity to engage with a whole new awareness of who she was in Christ. I like that!

Jesus then goes on to align this anointing with his coming cross experience of death, and how Mary’s actions were a kind of foretelling of the death that was awaiting him. We revere the cross of Easter not because of what we believe it effected, but because of what it reveals to us of God! Jesus’ death on the cross of Easter is the epitome/the archetype of God’s poured out love. It demonstrates what we are being given to know of God’s out-poured love as it is released into our lives, and then as Christ-followers, also all of what we are to show of God’s love through our lives.

Our second reading sees Jesus unpacking this sign of his death and life some more. It begins by some Greeks – perhaps representing us as we become trapped by all sorts of intellectual head-knowledge – saying that they wanted to ‘see’ Jesus. There are two words that John could have used for this ‘seeing’:  and . He used the second one.  means to ‘see’ in the sense of simply witnessing’ or ‘having a sight of’ something.  is so much more profound. It’s the word the New Testament uses elsewhere to describe insight: the ‘attaining true knowledge of’ (3 John 11). That’s also the word Matthew (Mt.13:15) uses to describe seeing or perceiving through an ‘intellectual eye’.

Those Greeks were wanting so much more than just to ‘see’ Jesus, they were wanting insight! They were wanting to understand Jesus for who and what he was. And so Jesus didn’t simply respond to their request by going to them, he takes them deeper: You want to see me? Well then, come to know the reality of life and death as I am about to demonstrate it to you, and you will!

This truth may very well be the most essential jewel for us to embrace about Easter: Jesus’ dying-crucifixion and rising-resurrection is not nearly so much about what the church has made it to be – a sign signalling/effecting some kind of transaction between us and God – as it is about providing us with clear insight, revelation, of what our relationship with God and all creation is actually intended to be – as it’s allowed to become most real. At the very heart of everything that is most real, is this truth of how purely out-poured love will always lead us through some form of death before empowering us to embracing resurrected life.

That is a fundamental aspect of the very nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – and it’s a fundamental aspect of the most very real nature of us, as we claim our identities as being in Christ, ‘Christ-ians!’ It’s not nearly so much about what Jesus was doing for us before a wrathful God as it is about what he is showing us i.e. the power of the infinitely pervasive, self-emptying love of God! THIS – the beautiful, love-soaked, poured-out rhythm of Easter – allows us a glimpse of who/what God is, and who it is /what we are most essentially made to be all about as well!

I end by asking some open questions for reflection, asking what all that may mean for us today?

(1) Imagine being enabled properly to apply this at a deeply personal, individual, internal level… What a difference that would make to how we see ourselves…

(2) Imagine the same thing, but at an interpersonal, relational, community level as we interact with one another and our outer worlds… What a difference that would make to how we interact with others…

(3) Imagine our world where this becomes real on an international, global scale. What a difference that would make to how our global communities interact with one another…

Our prayer, Dear God, is that you would allow us what we need to access this powerful Easter truth of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection in our living. May the power of your revealed death to resurrection love be an ever-increasing reality, leading us to a living that makes You smile and gives Christ glory.

Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2024.
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[1] Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50

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