A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
During the first century A.D. pagan “mystery religions” such as the Eleusinian mysteries were flourishing all over the Roman empire. There was a general hunger in the ancient Mediterranean world for the promise of immortality. Greek and Roman pagans were known to go on long pilgrimages looking for the secret of eternal life, and they were willing to look into any cult if it held the prospect of life after death. Perhaps that is what brought the Greeks mentioned in today’s Gospel lesson to Jerusalem at Passover. Perhaps they thought the wonder-working Jewish rabbi from Nazareth they had heard about would be able to give them another piece of the puzzle of immortality. Maybe the mysteries Jesus revealed could finally give them the eternal life they for which they so longed.
There is, of course, much that is “mysterious” about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It boggles our feeble human minds, for example, to think that the sovereign Lord of all Creation would humble Himself and become one of us—the Almighty Creator become a frail creature, the Infinite willingly bound by finitude, the font of Life made subject to decay and death. Yet what is even more amazing than the mysteries of Christianity are the openness and clarity of their proclamation!
For our God speaks to us plainly. God’s holy nature and boundless power are set out for all to see in the works of creation. The saving acts of the one, true God have been openly displayed throughout human history. And His sovereign will for the world is available to anyone who would seek it through His revealed Word written. These truths are not the preserve of a small band of initiates huddled in the darkness. They are meant for the entire world, and they have been so from the beginning.
When Moses went up the holy mountain to receive the Law at Sinai the very earth itself testified to the revelation with lightening, thunder, fiery clouds, earthquake, and a groaning from its very depths like the blast of a mighty trumpet. This Sacred Law wasn’t given in secret formulas known only the enlightened few, but in a normal human speech Moses could share with the people of God in his time--and for all time--in the words of Holy Scripture. We worship a God we cannot see, but we may hear His voice calling out from every page of every Bible with infallible words even a child can understand. Nothing could be farther from the murky mysteries of the ancient Greeks than the plain Truth of the Living God.
Of course, the mighty acts and awesome words of God revealed in the Old Testament will crescendo in the Lord’s ultimate act of salvation and His most perfect revelation—the Incarnation of God the Son in our Lord Jesus Christ, God-with-us. When the true God revealed Himself fully to the world in Christ, it wasn’t done through hushed whispers in secret, underground lairs. It was done in a stable outside a crowded inn, on a boat in a stormed-tossed lake, on a hillside where thousands were fed from a boy’s lunch basket, and in the bedroom of a dead twelve-year-old girl. The saving truths of eternal life were spoken aloud by Christ in the ordinary language of everyday people and proven through the testimony of countless sufferers freed from their torments, in throngs of demons cowering in terror, and by graves that yielded up their occupants to life restored anew. In the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the saving love of God is an indisputable fact for anyone with eyes to see it.
Yet if one wishes to see the most powerful manifestation of the glory of God, he must look not to the miracles of Christ’s earthly ministry, nor even to His words of holy Wisdom. Instead, as both our Lord Jesus and the voice from Heaven make plain in today’s Gospel lesson, the fullest, most perfect manifestation of God’s glory is found in “the Hour” of Jesus, when He is “lifted up from the earth.”
For as Jesus was raised up from the stony soil of Calvary fixed to the hard wood of the cross, God’s glory radiated from one end of the cosmos to the other with an intensity unknown from the foundation of the world. For there, at that moment, through the free gift of God every sin ever committed by mankind from Eden to the End of Days was redeemed by Christ’s obedience, and every affliction the human race had ever known or would ever know was swallowed up by the divine love through the tortured flesh and battered soul of the only-begotten Son. At that Hour Jesus Christ draws all mankind to Himself because He has identified with us perfectly in our sin and our mortality. His cross becomes a vortex of perfect Light that swallows up the darkness haunting our hearts and minds.
And yet the glorious “Hour” of Christ is not exhausted even by His precious death on our behalf. Jesus was also “lifted up from the earth” when He rose from the cold stone slab of the tomb on Easter morning. Kicking down the gates of Hell and crushing the head of that ancient serpent under His nailed-pierced heel, Christ—the seed that had been dead and buried—broke forth from the tomb and an abundance of fruitful life followed after Him, enlivening all those who turn to Him in faith. Furthermore, the Incarnate Son was also “lifted up from the earth” forty days after His Resurrection when He ascended back to His Father, taking our human nature into the Godhead, allowing Christ to serve as our eternal High Priest before the throne of Glory and cementing the bond between humanity and our Savior God forever.
All this taken together—Christ’s saving death, His life-giving resurrection, and His glorious ascension—comprises “the Hour” of Christ by which God glorified Himself most perfectly: a moment of supreme humiliation transmuted by divine Love into one of unbounded glory—an Hour so awe-inspiring that it inexorably draws us in and pulls us along in Christ’s wake on the way of the Cross. This is a glory in comparison with which the petty pomps of this world fall away as of no account. For the Hour of Christ—the hour of unmerited forgiveness for all those who, with penitent hearts, turn to the Savior in faith—the hour when death is swallowed up by Life and darkness by divine Light—the hour when our primeval union with the Creator is restored to its fullness—this is the hour of the judgment of our fallen world, when its false ruler is cast out and the King of the New Heaven and the New Earth take up His throne. And this glorious Hour is right now if you and I will forsake our old lives of complacency and ignorance and lift Christ up high for the whole world to see.
Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world! We must tell them, brothers and sisters. Behold the wood of the cross whereon hung the world’s salvation! Behold the broken power of the empty tomb! Behold the Hour of Christ when He draws all men to Himself!
Glory be to God on high. Amen.