Over the past year, I’ve fielded quite a few phone calls, text messages, and emails asking, wondering, and sometimes even pleading for in-person church to restart. I’ve felt each one of those encounters. I’ve carried them with me every day since this pandemic began because I know these requests weren’t being made out of selfishness or the thought that this virus isn’t a real threat. To a person, each one who reached out, and I’m sure all of you who didn’t, wanted to be back in church because, like the Greeks in our Gospel lesson this morning, you want to see Jesus. We want to see Jesus. We want to see Jesus in the face of our friends. We want to see Jesus in the beauty of our sacred space. We want to see Jesus in the Eucharist. Part of what has made this year so difficult for all of us has been how disconnected we’ve felt, not just from one another, but at times, even from Christ Jesus.
Our Gospel lesson this morning is the story of Jesus’ last public teaching before his death. It is the Passover Feast, and pilgrims from all over have come to Jerusalem. Faithful Jews from across the Diaspora came to offer sacrifices, say prayers, and give thanks for God’s salvation from slavery in Egypt. Jewish converts came as well, eager to say their prayers and to engage in the rituals of their newfound faith. Of course, there were tourists in town too; interested onlookers who wondered what it was all about. We don’t know if these Greeks were converts or tourists, but nevertheless, they wanted to see Jesus. They’d no doubt heard about him. Whether it was because he had raised Lazarus from the dead a week earlier or some other miracle, it seems news of the faith-healing Rabbi had spread far and wide.
As Jesus is wont to do, he doesn’t seem to directly give anybody what they want. Instead of heading over to take a selfie with the Greeks who came to see him, Jesus took the opportunity to teach his disciples, the Greeks, and anyone who would listen that his death was imminent and that his death would be the first seed of many that would produce the fruit of the Kingdom of God. Jesus took the chance to remind those who would seek to follow him that discipleship means a life of sacrificial love. As Deacon Kellie told us last week, in John’s Gospel, Jesus being lifted up wasn’t high on a throne of glory, but upon a cross, where his death would be the beginning of eternal life for the whole world. If we are to follow Jesus, we must learn to see him in his fullness – in his ministry of teaching and healing, in his being lifted up on the cross, in his rising again at the Resurrection, and in his ascending into heaven. In this final public discourse and in the private farewell discourse that was just for his disciples; Jesus sought to prepare all who would follow him for what life would look like when he was gone; when, one day, it would be impossible to see Jesus, face to face.
Not being able to come to church has us all longing to see Jesus, but on the other side of that coin, I think, are the many ways we’ve seen the face of Christ in the world around us. In our Baptismal Covenant, we affirm that, with God’s help, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. And so, over the last year, we’ve seen Jesus in the many sacrifices we’ve made to keep our neighbors safe. I see Christ in every pair of smiling eyes peeking over a mask covered face at the grocery store. I see Jesus in the phone calls, text messages, and emails of encouragement and support. I’ve seen Jesus in teachers caring for their students, students navigating NTI snow days, and on every one of the hundreds of Zoom meetings I’ve attended this year.
In teaching those Greeks that discipleship means sacrifice, Jesus affirms for all of us that what we’ve done over the last year is important. In every sacrifice we’ve made in the name of the greater good, we’ve placed another piece of beautifully dyed thread into the gorgeous tapestry God is weaving into the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. As we think about how we will begin to return to some of the familiar practices of past, we would do well to remember that call to sacrificial love. Holy Week and Easter aren’t going to be anywhere near normal. Even as we come back into the Nave for Sunday worship, you might not be able to sit in “your pew.” The space will look, feel, and sound different. The season of sacrifice isn’t over just because we’ve announced a return to Church in the Pews beginning on April 11. Instead, as I think we’re all experiencing, each time I do something I used to do pre-pandemic, I’m keenly aware of how different it is. Going to a restaurant, waiting in my car for a table, seeing half the place empty, and my server wearing a mask is different. Getting my temperature taken at the door of my doctor’s office and trying to fill out paperwork through fogged up glasses is different. Helping Lainey find her mask before we head out to school each morning is different. For me, the starkness of our year-long sacrifice is more apparent in the way things are different now than in the things that still aren’t happening. As excited as I am to see folks back in these pews, I know that it’ll hurt to not give hugs and handshakes, to see you behind masks, and to not share a blueberry donut after the 10 o’clock service. Those things will come, in time, I’m sure, but it’ll be helpful to remember that Jesus is present in every physically distanced wave, every masked smile, and, yes, even in every donut not eaten.
We want to see Jesus, but the truth of the matter is that, even in our disconnection, Jesus has still been present among us. The key is to look. With God’s help, we can have our eyes opened to see God’s hand at work in the world about us. With God’s help, we can fix our hearts on true joy in a world of swift and varied changes. With God’s help, the sacrifices we have made and will continue to make over the coming months will be the opportunity to shine the light of Christ into the world so that others might come to see Jesus for themselves. To see Christ, we must follow Christ in a life of sacrificial love. To see Christ, we must serve Christ in everyone we meet. To see Christ, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We wish to see Jesus, O God, open our eyes that we might see. Amen.