Hour of Glory - what does that really mean?
St Mary’s Church, Thorpe
Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year B - 2021
Introduction and Call to Worship
Jesus, looking ahead to his death on the cross, said “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Come, let us worship.
First Reading Jeremiah 31:31-34
The Lord promises to make a new covenant with his people, a covenant written on their hearts, which will bring a new intimacy with him and a new assurance of forgiveness.
Second Reading Hebrews 5:5-10
God appoints Jesus, his Son, as high priest forever; he is made perfect through his suffering and he brings salvation to all who obey him.
Gospel John 12:20-33
Jesus tells his disciples that he will be glorified through his death; his death will be fruitful and draw all people to himself, just as a single seed must die in order that life can follow.
‘“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.”’ (John 12:24).
Today, Lent 5 marks the start of Passion-tide, the last two weeks of Lent which draw us into the scene at Calvary and the death of Jesus our Lord, recalling His “hour of glory”. (We began our Mass hearing the words of the great Passiontide hymn, ‘Lift high the Cross’ – with the words of the first verse: Come, Christians, follow where our Saviour trod, o’er death victorious, Christ the Son of God.’ – Emphasis on his glorious death – we sometimes talk of glorying in the Cross of Christ – and the hour of his glory). Sometimes people talk about their hour of glory, often a moment of achievement and success. We may have experienced our own hour of glory - we may have won an award, a sporting achievement or championship, a prize at school, or were awarded special recognition for our work or service to the community (or even won the Church Quiz and I can’t think of whom I am speaking right now…?) Such a moment involves being honoured and admired by others. It is a high point in our lives and we usually feel good about ourselves – a sense of pride in our achievement.
In John’s Gospel we find a contrasting moment and the climax for the Incarnation, revealed in the suffering and death upon the Cross of Jesus, his hour of glory. An outcome that was foretold by the prophets and predicted several times during Jesus’ life; remember how he told his mother Mary during the wedding at Cana, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4), and twice later in the same Gospel we are told that Jesus is not arrested, as “his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30 & 8:20). Now our Lord tells his disciples “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). What does he mean by this hour? Surely our Lord’s hour of glory is Palm Sunday, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the crowd singing, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ and waving palm branches. He is proclaimed ‘the king of Israel’. The Pharisees declare, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (12:19). Now that’s an hour of glory, as most of us would see it and truth be told, many politicians, leaders and perhaps even Bishops would long for such an hour of glory! What about you? Do you desire recognition, adoration, praise, and so much more?
This is not the way of Jesus, God made man. Palm Sunday is a transient sign of acclamation and popularity, but not his hour of glory. When Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23) He is speaking of his own death as the ultimate action of atonement; an hour when God in the fullest sense knows what it is to carry the full weight of others, of us, to be rejected and to die. Jesus cries out, “‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’” (John 12:27) Jesus is speaking to a group of non-Jewish seekers, brought to him by the disciples (see John 12:20–22). His earlier statement compared his impending death to the planting of a seed (John 12:23–26). Death and destruction are really the process which turns the mundane and ordinary into something mature and productive, a theological theme explored by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” (1 Cor 15:36).
It is not that suffering itself is glorious. I can’t believe that Jesus desires to suffer for its own sake (think of his torment in the garden of Gethsemane). Rather, he knows God’s loving, creative activity is at work through his suffering and death; that it will be fruitful and God’s glory will be revealed. He is the grain of wheat which must die in the earth in order that new life can be achieved. For this he doesn’t need our adoration, he requires our commitment and faith. Thomas A Kempis of the late medieval period (author of The Imitation of Christ) wrote, “Short is the glory that is given and taken by men; and sorrow followeth ever the glory of this world… But true glory and holy joy is to glory in God and not in oneself; to rejoice in God’s name and not to be delighted in one’s own virtue, nor in any creature, save only for Thy sake.”
Truth be told, most of us love a bit of adoration and praise, it boosts our ego and lifts our spirits. It is lovely to be wanted, needed, loved, respected, thanked – the list could go on. Considering the themes of Passiontide, perhaps we need to re-evaluate our own desire for glory. God’s glory is revealed in Jesus through his self-giving love, his suffering and death. This past year of pandemic, which is sadly far from over, with so much challenge and suffering, God’s glory has often been revealed in lives through times of difficulty, when we have no sense of our own glory and success, but simply we are willing to entrust ourselves to his loving purposes and seek to meet the needs of others. In our free-will offering of love and service, in our discipleship, in our care for this community of Thorpe: physically and spiritually, in our maintaining our prayers and Eucharistic life we have drawn closer to Christ and his glory. As Psalm 94 reminds us:
“If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot is slipping,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94: 17-19)
This is not to say that we should embrace suffering for its own sake, but that we should recognise that here in modern day Brittain and especially in Surrey, success is often measured by the wrong things. In God’s dynamic, part of us may have to “die” to produce real fruit. Remember, Jesus’ illustration of the seed dying in the earth does not refer only to himself. As his disciples, his life-long learners in the school of Christ, we too are urged not to cling to our achievements or those transient moments of glory, but to spend ourselves in costly self-giving love, working for a greater unity and deeper faith. Then, even though we may not receive recognition or acclaim, our lives will be fruitful, and God’s glory will continue to be revealed in us. Amen.
Fr Damian Harrison-Miles, March 2021