Glimpses of Grace & Truth...Are you ready for the rapid series of events in Holy Week? Our reading last Sunday (John 12) came right after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Chapter 12 starts with Lazarus’ sisters hosting a great feast, which is also where Mary anoints Jesus with the alabaster jar of expensive nard (“for my burial,” Jesus says). John jumps from that dinner to Jesus riding a donkey colt into Jerusalem as crowds shout “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
In the midst of all the celebrations (Lazarus’ dinner, triumphal parade, and Passover week), the cameras and spotlight zoom in on Jesus as he announces now is the time for “the Son of Man to be glorified.” John hopes we notice Jesus using the same term used centuries before by the Old Testament prophet Daniel. Daniel, a child of the Exile, is confident that the “Son of Man” will rescue Israel (and the world), from the tyranny of evil world powers who had ruled with an iron fist and peoples’ fear. From the Assyrians and Babylonians to the Meads and Romans, evil leaders had been cruel and savage, so merciless that Daniel uses horrific images to describe them. He speaks of the “lion with wings of an eagle,” the “bear with three ribs between its teeth,” “leopard with four wings and four heads,” and the “beast with iron teeth and ten horns.” Those nations were real, because the evil things they did and barbaric pain they inflicted on Israel were real, Israel had felt real life events so terrible that they make a Steven King novel sound like Dr. Seuss.
Against those mighty and massive barbarians, no nation had the power to rise up and conquer...until Daniel introduces a new champion, one with no apparent powers or visible might. This champion, who Jesus and Daniel label “the Son of Man,” sounds inadequate to overcome the mighty villains of human history, especially if all he has is a donkey. This son of humanity would actually be incapable, except that God works through him to finally exert heaven’s right to reign over all creation.
Daniel is convinced of this rescue and John, writing his Gospel 500 years later, is even more convinced that this rescue is being inaugurated in the person and the work of Jesus Christ. This series of statements by Jesus, reinforced by his miracles (which John calls “signs” pointing to a new age), alongside John’s mentioning the Old Testament promises, all combine to make crystal clear that this age is ushered in through Jesus.
What does all this have to do with Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, a cross, a tomb, women planning to anoint and angels preparing to announce “He is risen”? Why does the Lectionary nudge us to read those verses last Sunday or from Luke 23 and Jesus’ Passion this week? Because we need to hear not only what happens as Jesus nears the end of his life, but also to consider why these events matter. John 12 isn’t about events (that was the 57 verses in John 11). John 12 is about meaning. John 12 begs us to hear background conversations (from Pharisees to followers), and to see the surprising appearance of Greeks who attend Israel’s Passover so they may “see Jesus.”
Over the next 12-15 days, as we host all our programs and events, please notice the details, contemplate the meaning, and allow their depth to sink deep into your heart and soul. Stay close, pay attention, and listen as God assures you that His rescue of humanity is in motion and it does and ultimately will come to fruition in Jesus Christ. Join us often as we worship, reflect, break bread, serve, and celebrate the events of Jesus’ final days, his teachings, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection that changed all of human history.
Sincerely in Christ’s service: Ed, Will & the First UMC Family