Jesus’ death is for the unforgiven, the unredeemed, the lost, and the nameless for which Jesus says: “And what should I say—Father save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Lent 5, March 25, 2012, Year B
Jer. 31.31-34; Psalm 51.1-12; Heb. 5.5-10; John 12.20-33
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace from the One who draws all things to himself, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Now my soul is troubled,” says Jesus. My soul is troubled these last few days, too. On Thursday night this last week I received a phone call from my father. He shared with me the news of the death of a high school freshman in my home community of Garrison. Her name is Robin.
I did not know Robin well as she got older because I went away for school, but I had the privilege of babysitting her when she was an infant. I got to hear about Robin often as of late because of her success in cross country and FFA. My dad who is her teacher had commented on what a good friend she was to so many. Robin died instantly in a head-on collision with a gas truck. She had crossed the center line because she was texting. What are we to say in a senseless death and tragedy such as this?
For many of you, especially all of you who are under the age of 20, you know friends and family who have died young. We have all felt the sting of death in people we love who have died. Perhaps some of you still think you are not going to live to see 30. To put it bluntly, I hate death. Sometimes I have no other language to describe how I feel about it other than that.
So what does Jesus have to say about death? In verse 27 he says, “And what should I say—Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Jesus speaks of the necessity of his death. In our text study, I asked Peder one time: What would Christianity be, or would it be, if Jesus died of old age, or even didn’t die and got carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire like Elijah.
Peder replied: “For me, God could have done it no other way. It is only in the death of Jesus in which I have come to know and understand the love of God for me and for the world. And, it is the only way I know that no matter what I go through, Christ has the power to be with me through it all, even death.”
Peder puts it well and articulates the very root of faith. Faith doesn’t stem from the good deeds of Jesus, or the healing miracles, or Jesus’ teachings. Faith stems from Jesus dying on the cross and believing it was for you.
How many of you have seen the movie, “Grand Torino?” The movie has been out for a few years now, so I hope I don’t spoil anything for you if it is on your list of movies to see. For me, Grando Torino has helped me to better understand the necessity of death and in-turn the possibility of new life only in and through death.
There are plenty of disturbing things that happen throughout the movie including rape, a confession of murdering a young boy, and the realities of gang life. Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kolwaski, a racist Korean War veteran living in a crime-ridden Detroit neighborhood (Grand Torino). Hmong people live next to Walt, whom he wants nothing to do with; however, one attempt at thievery causes their lives to collide and tightly intertwine.
As characters develop and transform throughout the movie, so do their relationships with one another, until the haunting realities of gang life and activity drive the movie to its climax. The young Hmong boy, whom Walt has grown particularly fond of, wants revenge on the gang members who have raped his sister. In one of the final scenes in the movie, Walt locks the young boy in his basement and goes alone to the home in which the gang members reside.
The gang members believe Walt is armed. In an attempt to draw witnesses out of their homes Walt engages in conversation with them. As Walt reaches for his lighter on the inside pocket of his jacket to light his cigarette, the gang members, thinking he is reaching for a firearm, gun him down and Walt falls to the earth, arms out-stretched and dies.
Through his own death, Walt frees the young boy he has grown to love from a life of violence. The gang members, too, are now given an opportunity to be removed from street life and are given the chance to live into a new way of being, even if it is in prison. Walt’s neighbors and the young people feel the pain of his death, but understand that the sacrifice he made was for them. Ultimately, there was no other way than for Walt to die in the way he did to release all those in the story from their bondage in the cycle of violence.
Jesus too, knows that the only way to free us from the power of death was to die himself. There is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for another. “And what should I say—Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Jesus went through his hour of death in order that we might face our own hour of death trusting in the one who will meet us on the other side of it.
Grand Torino speaks honestly about the realities of death and violence in the world in which we live. Robin’s death reveals that not all things happen for a reason. There are things that happen every day that are against what God wants for us. This is what verse 25 in our Gospel reading today is talking about: “those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
This doesn’t mean you have to hate your life. It means that we are to hate the things of this world that bring about suffering, violence, suicide, war, addiction and abuse…the things that bring about senseless tragedy and death. It is to these things in which we die; in which we say no to. It is in our dying to these things that oppose God that new life and goodness can come.
When we finally say no to grudges we’ve been holding, we have the opportunity for new life in our relationships. When we say no to drugs and alcohol if we’re addicted, we can finally be well and feel the good things that come with sobriety. When we refuse to let anger turn into hate and violence, peace in our hearts and peace between people can happen. This is what it means to die to ourselves and the things that hold us back from becoming who God has made us to be.
Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (12.23).” If Jesus would not have died, we would not understand the depth of love God has for us. We would not know that eternal life comes on the other side of death. We would not know that God is in fact making all things new.
Jesus dies because death is a big deal and it has a lot of power to cause pain and suffering in the lives of those who are left to grieve. Jesus dies in order to enter into all it means to be human and so that we need not fear it. Jesus gains power over death by dying and we must not forget who his death was for.
In verse 33, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." In the Greek it really says, “all things.” All things…all people, Jesus says.
In his death on the cross, Jesus takes up all the junk of life…everything…and all of who we are into himself and dies. It is only in his death in which all things can be made new.
I am challenged, always, to expand my thinking on who is included in the death of Jesus. There is a song written by a group called, The Waterboys, and it’s called Bring ‘em All In (Bring 'em all in). The lyrics are a nice compliment to verse 33.
Bring the unforgiven
bring the unredeemed
bring the lost, the nameless
let 'em all be seen
bring 'em out of exile
bring 'em out of sleep
bring 'em to the portal
lay them at my feet
Bring 'em all in, bring 'em all in, bring 'em all in,
bring 'em all in, bring 'em all into my heart
Bring the unforgiven, the unredeemed… the gang members in Grand Torino…even the ones who nail Jesus to the cross. Jesus’ death is for the unforgiven, the unredeemed, the lost, and the nameless for which Jesus says: “And what should I say—Father save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
The truth is, we are all lost and nameless, but in Jesus death we are no longer lost or nameless. Jesus claims us and draws us into himself on the cross so that no one is excluded or lost.
I am so sad this week with the news of Robin’s death and my heart aches for her family and for my home community. I find hope in our Gospel reading today that Christ accompanied Robin in her death because he has already gone through it and that he is with her loved ones and friends.
We all long for the day in which what is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting (1 Cor. 15.54-55)?”