The Wardrobe Door

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Sermons | 0 comments

March 17, 2024

Scripture Reading: John 12:20-33

The reading you just heard has an amazing context and is perfect for this 5th Sunday of Lent. In the text, we are one week before the crucifixion event. We know this – but the disciples didn’t, though there must have been a pall in the air: something bad is coming – but what? They picked it up from Jesus who knew his end was nearing.

Just look at the setting! They had gathered in Bethany – at Lazarus’ home whom Jesus had raised from the dead. That little detail was not lost on anyone, because Lazarus was right there with them. Then Mary (Magdalene?) came into the room where they were eating and began to anoint him with expensive perfume! That’s what they did to a body after death!

The next day was the Triumphal Entry with all the drama and pageantry! Celebration was on the surface, death was in the air! Then comes the understatement of the year: “At first the disciples didn’t understand this!” Only after it was all over…

Only the most perceptive of the 12 might have said: “I have a bad feeling about this! It smells like loss, like death, like disaster, like the end.”

So to explain as much as he could explain, Jesus says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“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!” You can hear the music change, can’t you? You know it’s bad without looking! It’s in their
eyes, the fear and dread. Muscles tense – it’s flight or fight time! We’re in trouble here. We might not make it out alive! The walls are closing in. The escape route is mighty narrow.

But there is something in the eyes of Jesus! The dread of the coming pain is not gone. But there is something else. You hear it in his words: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” It is in his steady, unwavering steps forward toward the cross. WHAT DOES HE KNOW? WHAT DOES HE SEE? He has a certain hope that the disciples can’t yet comprehend!

He knows the same thing that Moses knew at the Red Sea! He knows the same thing that Joshua knew as he approached Jericho! He knows what Lucy discovered at the back of the narrow, dark closet in the story of Narnia! He knows what every tulip and daffodil bulb knows in February. He knows what the Apostle Paul discovered on the road to Damascus. He knows from the God of today and tomorrow that after the narrowest of narrow places in our lives, there is a wide and open place prepared for us on the other side of it all!

That’s what Jesus knows. He may not know what it all will look like, but he knows there is life abundant on the other side.

This is no Pollyanna dreaming. Jesus was not oblivious to the pain or the suffering. “My soul is troubled.” he said. There was nothing about that cross that held a hidden joy! This experience was the darkest of the dark – the loss and the fear to match all losses and all fears. And he knew he HAD to go through this narrow place and he had to do it alone.

But he also knew something else and he knew BOTH THINGS. One did not cancel the other nor lessen the pain. The other thing he knew was that he knew God! He had walked beside God with an intimacy that we’ll never fully understand. He knew that God is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS leading us from narrow to wide open spaces. The Psalmist says: “You gave me a wide place for my steps under me!”

Several years ago, now, Mary Ann took her two daughters to Europe and to Venice. Have you ever been to Venice and seen the wonder of Piazza San Marco? Sarah and Kate were 22 and 19. There in this place of wonder, Mary Ann led them through the back ways which make up most of Venice, narrow and dark walkways with only the canal, the tall confining ancient buildings that close out the light so early in the evening. For the girls it was a walk in a valley. Mary Ann was setting them up for a lesson. When the moment came, she led them around a corner and right into the lights, the noise, the flutter of pigeon wings, the music of the band and wide, wide piazza filled with joy and delight! They were stunned into silence. From narrow and dark to 590 feet of openness, wonder, and delight!

Does God get giddy with excitement when God walks through the valley of the shadow of death by our side, knowing full well the wide place is just around the corner – God’s destination? This is the God who is always shaping us and making us into God’s own image.

God knows that we are just neophyte learners and followers. Like the disciples, we have to go through it to learn it. Learning to die in order to live. Learning to let go. Learning to be truly free and not free as we have come to define it in this life. It is not freedom to find a way around the crossing of the Red Sea! It is freedom to walk through it, face its wall of water and come out on the other side by the grace of God into the Promised Land.

Pastor Don Crist