March 18, 2018

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. John 12:20-33


In this Johannine passage we meet a Jesus who is seemingly full of bravado as he faces his Passion and death. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” It is interesting that it is only in John that we find this “troubled” but seemingly unfrightened Jesus moving steadfastly forward. It is also interesting that John gamely jumps from the Last Supper with only a mention of Gethsemane in the context of his arrest. “On the other side [of the Kidron Valley] there was a garden and he and his disciples went into it.”

In contrast, the Synoptic Gospels present a different picture. Jesus and the disciples go to the garden to pray, and it is a much more human, frightened Jesus that we meet. In Matthew 26:37-38, Jesus takes some of the disciples and “…he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” In Mark 14:33 we are told that Jesus is “deeply distressed and troubled,” and in Luke 22:42,44 Jesus knelt and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done…And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

It is this Jesus to whom I can truly relate, especially during the Lenten season. I have what most would call a “tacky” picture of Jesus in Gethsemane, one which most of you have probably seen. It shows Jesus kneeling at a rock in a flowing purple robe, his anguished face looking up, and a ray of golden light shining on him. This picture is my touchstone, the Jesus who understands my sin, my fear, my alienation as I too move inexorably to the grave.

On Ash Wednesday we read Psalm 51: “I know my transgressions,/and my sin is ever before me.” As this psalm washes over us, there is a duality of fear and comfort emanating from it: “Hide not your face from my sins” and “Cast me not away from your presence” contrasted with “Wash me through and through from my wickedness/and cleanse me from my sin” and “Create in me a clean heart, O God”.

This is Lent – a time of recognizing our estrangement from God mixed with our realization that God wants us to be reconciled to himself. Lent calls us to a self-examination which can be brutal, but with the knowledge that God will look on us with his “loving-kindness” and “in (his) great compassion (will) blot out my offenses.”


The Rev. Frank Wallner
Saint John’s, Lower Merion


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This is the official website of the Merion Deanery, a group of 13 Episcopal churches and communities located just outside of Philadelphia.

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