Lent, Sermons

Daffodil Dreams

(A sermon for Lent 5B    March 29, 2009    Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33)

I used to dream of bigger houses. For years I drove past a big yellow house and admired it, walked past it bringing children home from elementary school, wondered who lived in it, imagined myself in it. In the late fall of the year we moved to Sheffield Street, I looked out my bedroom window past the leafless trees, and there it was, long and yellow and still a dream house with its round room on one corner and its stone foundation. Even when the trees are in leaf, I can catch a glimpse of its yellow clapboards, just out of reach across a busy street.

I’ve had many dreams of what my life might look like. As a young mother of one child, I had an image of myself with several unseen children and a station wagon and a big dog to ride in the way back. It was a 240 wagon in that creamy yellow shade you used to see all around 20 years ago, and the dog was a Golden Retriever. (Don’t tell Sam!)

At this time of year, I am looking for golden things and yellow, for signs of life and dreams of spring.

I took my son to the bank for a rite of passage yesterday, the transformation of his Dinosaver account to a student checking account. While we waited to be served, an older gentleman came striding happily into our bank branch, dressed in shorts despite the foggy morning, cheerfully singing, “In your Easter Bonnet, with all the frills upon it…”

We’re ready, aren’t we? We are ready to leave Lent behind and move to Easter, to smell the lilies and sing the glad songs, even to eat the chocolate rabbits and the jelly beans.

But Lent does not release us, not quite yet. Lent asks us to listen a little longer to stories of covenant and commitment. Lent asks us to think a little harder about what it means to be faithful.

I would rather walk around my front yard and take pictures of the crocuses hopefully raising their purple blooms to the sun and the green shoots of my daffodils faithfully pushing through the earth. I would rather get ridiculously enthusiastic about the state of the buds on my backyard forsythia. I would rather consider whether this is the year to list the swingset on Freecycle, the year to start a compost bin, the year to put in a raised bed and grow my own lettuce in the city, the year to ask the neighbors about taking that sunshine-interrupting branch off the butternut tree that starts in their yard but grows over ours.

I would rather dream of the Resurrection than the Crucifixion.

And in my dreams of this garden I would like to have, I’m imagining someone else doing the hard work. I have to admit this. “Honey,” I typed into a little box on the computer, “would you help me put in a garden?” There was a pause before he began typing in reply. “What do you need me to do?” he asked carefully. “Feats of strength,” I typed back.

Feats of strength: he’s famous for them around our house. Once we volunteered to help move a friend’s piano, and when it almost slipped off the moving truck, the other men stood helplessly by for a moment while Pure Luck alone saved it. If I want a raised-bed garden, I know he can manage the tasks to put it together, and so in my dream of a garden, I can skip over the hard parts and leave the feats of strength to him. In my dream, I am washing my lettuce, without any of the work that needs to happen in between. I am the kind of person, in my dream, with a little garden in her little yard in the city, a statement of faith and hope in the world and yet an attempt at making salad happen more economically in these troubled times, too.

How often are we actually the kind of person we dream of being?

And how directly does my score in that pursuit relate to my wish for Lent to be over?!?!! It’s a season of getting right with God, a structured opportunity to think about who Jesus was and what he was heading towards, not just a time for listening to his parables but for imagining his personhood.

The familiar Holy Week stories tell of the Garden of Gethsemane: of Jesus’ loneliness, of the way the disciples abandon him at prayer by falling asleep, of his request to God that if it’s at all possible this terrible end might not be necessary. But John’s Jesus comes at us in a very different way. He tells us he knows what is coming, and it’s okay.

I must admit I’ve never liked that about him. He does not seem like MY Jesus, the one I imagine when someone asks what figure from history you would like to meet and talk to, or which three you would invite to a dinner party. That would be Jesus, Shakespeare and Jane Austen, in case you’re interested. I wish I could hear him talk, figure out if it’s only my interpretation or whether some of those things he said to the disciples had an edge of humor. I want him to have a sense of humor.

I have my dream of Jesus, and in it he is very much a human being right up until the moment he is not one anymore. What makes him so different even before is that the things of this world don’t get in the way of his relationship with God.

Now, if we understand him to be part of God’s own self, we may say, of course the things of the world didn’t get in his way! But I like to see him as human, because that’s where the real mystery of the resurrection lies. The resurrection of a god comes as no surprise. It’s the life and death and resurrection of a person that gives us hope for a new way of being.

And that brings me back to John’s Jesus, a man who seems so sure of all that is going to happen that it almost ruins his humanity for me. If he knows he is God, where are the surprise and the wonder of the Resurrection coming from? I have dismissed a lot of things in John’s gospel on this basis, and I must admit to being tempted to just skip over this reading and talk about something else this Sunday.
But it’s Lent, still, and I like to read the gospel stories in Lent, by which I mean I believe it’s a good idea to read them, even when they make me uncomfortable.

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:20-33, NRSV)

So, the moment has come, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. It’s time for people to start noticing him. In John’s gospel, it’s Passover, not the same Passover from Chapter Two but another year. Jesus and his followers have come to Jerusalem along with the faithful from all over the known world to celebrate this festival. The night before, at dinner, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair, exciting criticism from Judas for wasting the precious nard that might have been sold for much money. Jesus said she was preparing him for burial. He wants them all to understand how close to the end of their time together they are coming. He wants them to understand who he is.

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (John 12:24-26, NRSV)

We’ve heard similar words in the other gospels. To follow him we have to give up the things we think matter in this world in order to follow him.

"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–' Father, sav
e me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
(John 12:27-28, NRSV)

How did we get from “Let this cup pass from me” to “And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour?’”

Sixty or seventy years have gone by since the Crucifixion when John’s gospel is written, and it matters to the author that people believe not in a questioning man but in a sure-and-certain God.

The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (John 12:29-33, NRSV)

This is the kind of death he was to die: a physically brutal death on the cross, suffocating when he could no longer bear the pain of pushing up on the feet nailed to the wood; a humiliating death, reserved for common criminals, a kind of execution sideshow where the freaks are put to death.

It was a very human death that would become a sign of something greater, a sign of something deeper, a sign of the covenant of love Jeremiah claimed God wanted to write on our hearts.

I think it’s important to remember that no matter how confident and knowing the Jesus of Chapter 12 sounds, he still has to walk up that hill carrying his own cross. He still has to live through being murdered, slowly. And he has to do it while inhabiting a human body.

I don’t want to dream about that; you?

I want to skip ahead to that other Mary, walking in the garden, knowing him by his voice. I want to skip ahead to sunshine and flowers and relief and springtime.

I want to live in that dream of Jesus conversing at the dinner table right up until I am carrying my own cross, feeling misunderstood, feeling no one loves me, feeling out of sorts and out of order and out of relationship with everyone who matters to me and God, too. And when I walk through those dark places, those Lenten walks that we don’t schedule on the calendar but cannot avoid in this life, I am glad to know that the love God wrote on our hearts is Jesus. I am glad to know that he really and truly understands who we are, that he got to know us at our absolute worst and still loved us.

I’m ready for Lent to be over, but I’m glad to know that when I make my next unscheduled visit, he’ll be there, waiting for me, nodding his head, knowingly. I’ll catch a glimpse of yellow; there are daffodils in the distance, grown from bulbs burst open in the dark, the hope of new life. That’s my dream. Amen.

4 thoughts on “Daffodil Dreams”

  1. Thank you. This helps me work out some of what I’ve been feeling as I mourn the death of one of my favourite theologians, Nancy Eiesland. She applied the principles of Liberation Theology to the experience of human disability in some very powerful ways and made a profound contribution to The Great Conversation before her death earlier this month…and now I know what I’m going to do with Thomas and that sermon that’s coming up the Sunday after Easter!
    On another note, hurrah for raised-bed gardening! My mother struggles with a range of mobility- and strength-limiting conditions, but she’s able to maintain a large garden using raised beds. There are books on “barrier-free” and accessible gardening and many ergonomically-designed tools are available too. Go play in the dirt!

  2. I admit what I want, like you, is a fantasyland faith. But like cotton candy, that doesn’t last long, once you get off the midway into the real world. What I need is faith that gets me through the sleepless nights filled with razor-sharp what-ifs. What I need is faith that helps me become aware (Buber has a great passage on this, comparing: observing, analyzing; and, onlooking, never escaping self; and, becoming aware, hearing the silent or loud Thou of the other who demands response). What I need is One who inhabits calmly the tenebrae behind the not-so-rolled-away boulders of my life, where I’m screaming or hiding. That’s what Lent does (as your sermon makes me realize); it helps me with the unadmitted, inadmissible needs that make up my neighborhood of humankind.

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