Sunday, April 17, 2016

Year C, Easter 5: You Cannot Come. . .Yet.

John 13:31-35

'Where I am going, you cannot come. '

There are some paths in life down which we simply must walk alone.  For all the talk of having companions along the way, there is a point at which those 'companions' are at best spectators, and we are left alone in the experience.  Suffering and death are such a journey.

Strange contrasts in today's text.  Jesus had just said to Judas, "Do quickly what you are going to do."  Betrayal.  Immediately following this text, Jesus tells Peter, "Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times."  Denial.  And in the midst of this denial and betrayal by his own disciples, Jesus speaks of this moment, this moment, as the time of his glorification.  And he speaks of love.  "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

Ever since Luther said that a true theologian is a theologian of the cross, and not a theologian of glory, Lutherans have been reluctant to talk about the glory of God and the glorification of Christ.  One of the most difficult things for me to make sense of, is that it is on the way to the cross that Jesus speaks of his glorification.  "You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory."  "Now the Son of Man has been glorified."  These words are spoken in the context of the suffering and death of Christ.

The "Crucified One" is the glorified Christ.

I have come to believe that to be glorified is this:  to have fulfilled the purpose for which one was created and sent.  Nothing less.  Nothing more.  A teacher is glorified when a student learns and grows.  A soldier is glorified when the nation is defended and protected from its enemies.  A doctor glorified in healing.  A carpenter in the building.  A chef in the breaking of bread.  And a Savior, in the saving.

Thus it is precisely in the cross, in offering his life for the sake of the world, that Jesus is glorified.  This solitary act of love, clothed in suffering, surrounded by betrayal and denial, is the glorification of Christ.

And it was a path he had to walk alone, a purpose that only he could fulfill.  No one could do it for him or with him.  "Where I am going, you cannot come."  "But," he adds in a moment, "you will follow afterward."

"Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

As Christ was glorified, so also, those who follow Christ will be glorified.  And our glorification is this, that we have love for one another.  This is the purpose for which we were created, and it is in the fulfillment of that purpose that we enter into our 'glory'.

There are some paths in life down which we simply must walk alone.  Love is one of those paths.  At first, this statement seems absurd.  Love is that which binds us together.  Love is by definition, is it not, a relationship with the other person.  Right?  Well, no.  I would suggest that what we are talking about is the consequence, the hopeful consequence, of love.  It is not always that way.  As with Christ, sometimes the act of loving the other results not in the establishment of a loving bond between two people, but in betrayal, denial, even death. You can love another person, only to have that person kill you.  That is the truth.

"Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward."

The glorification of one who would follow Christ, is in loving without regard to the reward.  It is in loving even if our love is to be rejected.  It is in loving, even if that love lands us on the cross.

Perhaps it is because I am at the core a very shy introvert that I think in this way.  I have never felt more alone, exposed, and vulnerable that when I first, clumsily, attempted to reach out in love.  The fear of being rejected, and utterly humiliated, was very real.

If congregations were always loving, being a Christian would be easy, being a pastor a breeze.  But love is not always received nor reciprocated.  It is always vulnerable.

And yet it is in this giving of ourselves, as Christ gave himself for us, that we are glorified.  It is the purpose for which we are created.  Loving, offering ourselves to others, as Christ offered himself for us, is a journey to which we are called, even if that means walking the entire way alone.  Yet, when we do so, with are with Christ, and Christ is with us.

And that is sufficient.

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