Homily at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California
n All Saints Chapel--Lent 5, 2011 by Jan Robitscher
Friday, Lent 5Jan Robitscher
All Saints Chapel
April 15, 2011
Jeremiah 20:7-11Psalm 18:107
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Anyone who has ever come over to my house has seen a little pillow on my couch. It reads, “Believe in Miracles”. Not exactly what I was taught in the Bible courses I had in college and then seminary, or in much of the preaching I have heard since. But I do believe in miracles, and in a way that is particular to the Gospel of John. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ miracles or “signs” or “works” as they are called, besides being visible interventions of God into human activity, always point beyond themselves, beyond Jesus, to God. And it is from them that we learn who God is and how much God loves us. But in John there is also a keen sense of time. So we could say that to understand--believe--this Gospel--this part of the Good News--is to be able to read “the signs of the times”.
So here we are, on the Friday before Holy Week. How does it feel? Has Lent rushed by so that we have not even started what we intended to do? Or has it seemed endlessly slow, as though it would never end--a great slog to Holy Week? Have you stopped to observe along the way or has life gone on apace?
As Christians, we are ever conscious of time. Indeed, much of our life together is spent sanctifying time or, as the title of Marion Hatchett’s book goes, Sanctifying Life, Time and Space. How we do that may vary from place to place. But that we do it is essential to who we are. Our lives are situated in the seasons of the Christian Year, of the week, the day and even of this hour. Alexander Schmemann puts it this way:
We are always living between morning and evening, Sunday
and Sunday, Easter and Easter, between the two comings
(A Sourcebook About Liturgy, p. 126)
Our Gospel reading is set in its own “time”, both literal and figurative. It comes after the healing of the man born blind (which is the penultimate in the series of great signs in John’s Gospel--the ones we have heard on the Sundays of Lent) and then the verses about the Good Shepherd, but before the final, great sign of the raising of Lazarus (celebrated in the Orthodox calendar tomorrow, Lazarus Saturday)--a sort of “hinge” passage that propels us toward the final events of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus. The Pharisees are about to stone Jesus--again. But Jesus was not just going to die any old death. In many places he says “My hour has not yet come”--not yet, not until the he could willingly lay down his life, giving himself into human hands to the very end.
The argument with the Pharisees is also, in a curious way, set in time. They accuse Jesus of “making himself God”. In reality, God, at that time, has become human in Jesus; “him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world”. He tried to tell them and even invited them to “believe the works” if they didn’t believe him, so that they might know that Jesus was God’s Son. But they tried yet again to stone him and he escaped from their hands and went to the region where John had baptized, “and they believed in him there”. What did John’s followers get that the Pharisees didn’t?
It seems the Pharisees were stuck in the present moment. They could only feel time closing in on them. The more and greater signs Jesus did, the more they felt threatened. The more Jesus identified himself with God, the more he tried to tell them that he was doing only his Father’s will, the more they refused to see God acting in their own time and place.
John’s disciples, it seemed, were able to look at and through and beyond the signs Jesus did to see the coming of the Reign of God. They were able to believe because they were not stuck in the present moment, unable either to learn from their past (Jesus’ reference to Psalm 82, “you are gods”) or to the future, toward which Jesus’ signs were always pointing.
Only in the freedom of living “between the times” can we see beyond our present situation, individual or collective, and enter into the life of Christ, whose Body we are. That is why, in a few minutes, we will hear again the story of our salvation in the Eucharistic Prayer and be reminded again of God’s mighty acts. And we will make present (anamnesis) Jesus’ acts of the Last Supper. Then we will receive the very life of Jesus in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, looking to his coming again in glory. We will, for a brief moment, be suspended in a wonderful, liturgical, present moment between the times, past and future, already and not yet.
Jesus offered the Pharisees the opportunity to let go of the urgency of time and even of trust. “Even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” This is not what we usually hear about signs and miracles, so Jesus offers us a unique opportunity, too.Take time--all the time you need--to walk the whole walk of Holy Week. Allow yourself to be suspended in liturgical time. Look around you to see the signs and miracles everywhere--even right here.Take time to ponder and absorb and celebrate them. Don’t worry--you will know them when you see them; God will show them to you. And just as Jesus went across to the region where John was baptizing, where they believed in him, “believe the works”--Jesus’ signs--and follow the events of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection all the way to the “womb and tomb” (as Cyril said) of the font of an even greater baptism, of dying and rising with Jesus, receiving the greatest gift--of being created anew even to dwelling with him forever in the timelessness of eternal life.