March 17, 2024: Challenging Words

Jesus statue

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Challenging Words

The only preaching, the only emphasis, I’ve heard on this particular passage is lifted from the first few verses: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This slogan is emblazoned on plaques. It is quoted as a reminder that our words (from preachers especially!) should point people to Jesus. I can understand why these words are “cut and pasted” from Jesus’ last public speech. The rest of the passage takes twists and turns. It’s not clear that the people who made the inquiry for an audience with Jesus ever got to see him!

Instead, Jesus launches into a soliloquy that has nothing to do with the original request. Jesus speaks about wheat dying, bearing fruit, losing and keeping one’s life, following and serving, soul-stirring trouble, glorifying, judgment, ending with the horrifying death awaiting him. In the middle of all this, a voice from heaven joins in, rumbling out a response that cannot be deciphered by the crowd, who interpret it as either a thunderclap or an angelic visitation.

In a world that is surrounded by death, I want to wrap myself in denial. I recoil from these words of Jesus. They challenge me to sacrifice. They challenge me to wrestle with mortality. They challenge me to follow Jesus, no matter where the path may lead.

And yet, if you and I have the courage, the strength of purpose, to follow this arduous path, we are endowed with some amazing Grace. Jesus said, “Where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” He also promised that the way of the Cross will break apart the barrier to God: “I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:25, 32).

We have journeyed together through the Lenten season, knowing that the path leads to the Cross. Sometimes I’d like to leap across the season to Easter Joy. But perhaps you and I need to linger here. Perhaps we need to confront the senseless tragedies we’ve witnessed, the palpable despair when dreams are crushed. For we are not alone. Into the dark night of the soul our Lord enters, shedding light and hope. Amen.


Dawn E. Volpe, pastor
Ephraim Moravian Church, Ephraim, Wisconsin