In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death… (Hebrews 5:7)
This powerful statement underlines boldly how close God is to our flesh, to our predicaments, to our fears, to our anguish in the flesh of his only begotten Son, Jesus. We should be heartened by Jesus’ loud cries and tears so as to dwell on those existential questions that we might ask ourselves only very rarely, if ever. The inevitability of death; what awaits us beyond the grave; whether we are making the right choices that enable us to reach a degree of confidence that we are spending our life purposefully; how we handle the moments of darkness and severe losses; and so on.
These are unusual questions indeed. But they are questions that the Church leads us to ask as we enter the more intense time of Lent and we find ourselves walking with Jesus towards our Calvary and the cross gets heavier and heavier. We find Jesus troubled for his hour has come. It is the hour of menacing darkness, of his sharpest pain, the hour of his passion and death on a cross, the hour filled with the outmost horror of unspeakable tortures.
For some of us the hour of our trials and darkness can be simply scary because, presently, things are going relatively well for ourselves and our family. For others, although they are ready to admit that their pain cannot be compared to the pains of Jesus on the cross, it is such that has pushed them to the very edge of sanity and endurance and have them teetering over an abyss.
Fully aware of both cases, knowing that for some of us the prospect of the unknown is frightening by itself and the experience of being at the brink is all that others can endure, Jesus doesn’t hide from us the full extent of his fear, all of his human frailty, his plain weakness so familiar to us all. He shows his full humanness because we are one with him in Baptism and we feed on his Flesh and Blood in the Eucharist.
At this point we should realize that this passage from the Gospel of John (12:20-33) is not offering us mere sincere sympathy and genuine solidarity, but the only possible and proven path to glory!
Anyone else on the face of the earth can send us a “get well” or sympathy card, bring us some flowers, try to cheer us up, give us words of encouragement, offer financial assistance; things of that sort: this is if they care about us. Others will go through the perfunctory motions dictated by etiquette to appease their conscience; while still others will either ignore us or say: “that’s too bad!”
True, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, what we just read in that passage from John would have to be considered a crazy statement uttered by a deranged man. But for us living in the wake of the Resurrection: the hour of our darkness, passion and death can, must be seen also as the hour leading to our triumph and glory.
Not one of those less than 100% close to Christ, less than 100% sold to his Gospel, would even dream of the slimmest possibility that what everyone belonging to this world abhors and fears the most must be seen as the most desirable hour of one’s life span. Hence, it is reasonable for us, who feel close to God in his Son Jesus, to ask for time to ponder over it.
So, Jesus repeats for our sake: “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”
Although we are troubled, we realize that it is only in Christ and with Christ that we can face the hour of our test, of pain, of loss, of bewilderment. And it is from Jesus and in Jesus that we learn obedience to the Father’s will by accepting our share of suffering.
It is imperative, though, that we renew our faith in him and remind our frightened heart that, against all indications and reactions, it can, it will be also the hour of our glorification and triumph. The rest of our life’s journey in Jesus and with Jesus will make sense, Christian sense, because we realize that the Father is writing in our hearts the same law of love he wrote in his Son’s heart! It is, of course, the New Commandment of loving each other the way Jesus loved us.
That law of love, the New Commandment is powered by the Spirit that sustained Jesus on his climb to Calvary and that Jesus commended into the hands of the Father as his sacrifice on the cross was completed. That same Spirit turned frightened, sheepish disciples into bold witnesses of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The same Spirit drove each one of them to embrace fully the mission and the purpose of a grain of wheat that has to fall to the ground, rot and die in order to bear much fruit. The same Spirit taught them to hate their life in this world the way Jesus did on the cross so that they could preserve it for eternal life.
Thus, may the same Spirit shed enough of his light on us so that we will choose Jesus’ outlandish, most unreasonable offer over what the world proposes as safe and sensible. May the same Spirit give us sufficient courage to sacrifice our life with the same trust of a good grain of wheat falling to the ground. We shall let the New Commandment be our guide and the law written in our hearts to inspire us. We cannot forget that, at this time, we are representing for ourselves and living out, in this church of ours, the Last Supper and the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross.
Hence, this very day could possibly be the beginning of “our hour:” the hour of our test, the hour of suffering, pain, darkness and self-immolation. But also the hour of a generous display of genuine love, of willing service of our neighbor and the hour of our glory and endless joy as well.