Sermon for Sunday 22 Jan / With Thanksgiving for R
Readings: John 18: 1-14 & Isaiah 52:13- end of 53
At St Edward’s we have been going through St John’s Gospel for the last few months. We are drawing towards the end now – coming to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We will finish our journey just before Lent which may seem strange a funny way round when we are going to look at the story again as we approach Easter but I think it will prove to be helpful in focussing our minds as we take time to reflect and having Jesus experiences fresh in our minds.
So today we see the point at which Jesus is confronted just before he is arrested. It’s a powerful passage. And I’ll be honest if I’d been choosing a reading for a thanksgiving service I don’t think it would have been this one!
BUT in some ways I think it is perfect – this passage shows us a defining moment in Jesus’ life. And a defining moment for all of us who follow the Lord. This is the turning point. No going back. The end has begun the new beginning is here?
We all have defining moments in our lives don’t we? Moments after which things will never be the same. Moving house, getting married, having a child, are the obvious ones – but what about starting a new job – perhaps moving from one area of work to another. Losing a loved one. Reading a powerful book.
I remember when I passed my driving test for example. Now my learning to drive did not go smoothly. All my friends used one instructor so I wanted to be with him too, but my parents chose a friend of a friend. He constantly likened me to a former pupil, he had really bad dandruff and a poor sense of humour. During my learning I went out with my Mum and ended up driving up a bank at the side of the road. I failed my first test with a horrible examine and at a horrible roundabout in Crawley where it was not obvious where to go.
But finally I passed. And it was a defining moment. It meant freedom (sort of – I still had to ask to borrow my mums metro!). I was able to take myself further afield. I could go places my parents weren’t wiling to drive me to – like Glastonbury festival for example! I got into old cars – VW beetles specifically and learned how to fix them.
Being able to drive was a defining moment that to some extent changed the course of my life.
And we see a moment like that in this passage – it reveals the heart of the gospel. That Gospel that D and O want R and N to grow up knowing for themselves.
Now this passage is like a book with a hidden meaning. Once you know you know, once you’ve read it or sussed out the hidden meaning you are there. You can read it again and it is a very different story.
Because this passage and this situation reveals who Jesus is and yet the pharisees/ the Jewish leaders just don’t get it. They’ve not read to the end yet. They can’t see that this is a key moment. Yet there are clues!
Firstly there is this powerful comparison with the Garden of Eden. A reflection of Genesis where humankind, Adam and Eve, were accused by God, and were guilty of going against God of eating from the tree they were told not to eat from.
Here Jesus, God, is in another garden, and is being accused by humankind and is innocent of all charges.
Adam and Eve hid, Jesus was out in the open, awaiting his fate.
The Jewish leaders knew their scriptures inside out and yet this didn’t occur to them.
And so the guards come. They say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus responds:
I AM he.
A simple response, that’s me’ but reflecting the ‘I ams’ , the statements Jesus made about himself that John has written throughout his writing. As Tom Wright (theologian) notes:
“This is the simple, clear and world-changing statement: the vulnerable man standing before you in the garden, glimpsed in the flickering torchlight, is the one who from all eternity was equal with the father. He is the I AM, the bread of life, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth” (Tom Wright in ‘John for everyone’)
And yet they don’t see it, they don’t see him. Or perhaps they do in some subconscious way because we read that the guards (v6) ‘they stepped back and fell to the ground’. Even if they didn’t know it in their heads perhaps something within them recognised who Jesus was?
And the guards are here in the dark, bringing torches and lanterns as they come towards the light of the world, but as John says in ch 1:5 – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is not going to extinguish it.
This is Jesus, Son of God. revealed. The light of the world.
This is the defining moment of the gospel narrative.
Had they not arrested him, let him go, things would have been very different.
And then we see the heart of the gospel revealed right here in this one line:
Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
John is referring back to something Caiphas said earlier on – that if this trouble maker Jesus died things would calm down and be better for the people – but the truth is the opposite.
If only he knew what he was saying! It was better for one man to die for all people.
This is the heart of the gospel – that one man died for us all. It is a truth which many of us know for ourselves. A truth which guides us through our life. It’s a truth D&O know, and want R & N to know. It’s a truth we remember throughout our service – as we say to this God who died for us all, thank you for R. We say thank you as we come to communion – Eucharist is from the Greek eucharistia meaning ‘thanksgiving’.
So as we continue in our worship we give thanks for Jesus, for all he did for us, we give thanks for R too, and ask for God’s blessing upon him. With thanksgiving in our hearts we seek to draw closer to God, to know Jesus more for ourselves, to be ever more thankful for he is with us now.