Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.
“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.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
“This is nobody’s favorite!” she declared to me.
She was probably right, too. Those verses about a seed falling to the earth and dying, about “hating” our lives to keep them for eternity...I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of folks who’ve asked me to “cut them out” of the committal services of their loved ones. No one seems to like the sound of them. And yet, they’re such important words from Jesus - words about his life and about ours.
When Jesus hears from Phillip and Andrew that some Greeks were asking for an audience with him, he knows that his time has come. His “hour” has arrived; the hour of his lifting up on the Cross, and of drawing all people to himself. He might have prayed to be saved from such an hour - except that this is the hour for which Jesus came. So instead of praying for a divine stay of execution, he prays, “Father, glorify your name.” Jesus is willing to “fall to the earth” in death and burial if that is what it takes for him to bear much fruit.
I never really understood the botanical reference in this passage until I watched an online tutorial on seed germination (yes, preachers do some strange things in sermon prep!). It turns out that if you open a monocot seed (like seed corn, for instance), you will find inside it a very small seed embryo, from which the new plant comes. If you plant a monocot seed, it begins to tear itself apart and give everything it’s got to produce new life: it sends roots down into the earth, and then it sends leaves up into the air, and then it sends shoots out to the sides; in other words, it begins to take the shape of a human being with outstretched arms, rather like a human body hanging on a cross...”the very dying form on One who suffered there for me.” The implication is that if Jesus is the seed, then we, the Church, are the fruit that his self-giving sacrifice produces. We are the fruit Jesus died to produce. The hope is that we will live as if we were worth dying for...because we were. The plan is that the death of Christ, the seed, will produce a bumper crop of little Christs (which is what the word “Christian” means). This is the kind of death Jesus knows he must die. This is how he will glorify God’s name.
Of course, if we are “little Christs,” then we are called to go and do likewise: to glorify God’s name by denying our self-wills and saying “Yes” to God’s will for us, whatever that might be, whatever that might cost. That’s a tall order for folks like you and me, who like to make our own plan and make it happen. Which is why I was fascinated to discover a book about this very topic, entitled “First Say Amen.” The author writes very convincingly about a major discovery in her prayer life: no matter how badly she wants things to go a certain way for herself or anybody else, no matter how fervently she’s praying for something, she begins her prayers by first saying “Amen” to God. As in, “amen” to what God wills, whatever that is. She’s still going to share her heartfelt desires with the Lord - there’s no point in being dishonest in prayer! - but she wants God to know that her deepest desire is for God’s will to be done, and for God’s name to be glorified. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to embrace this form of prayer myself. All I can tell you is, it changes things.
So when you pray, try this: First, say “Amen.” Say it again at the end. In the middle, remember to say “Lord, glorify your name.” May it change things for you, too.
Upon the cross of Jesus
Mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One
Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears
Two wonders I confess:
The wonders of redeeming love
And my unworthiness.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood