This weekend marks the first days of spring. And like many of my neighbors, I’ve started working out in the yard, preparing things for the season to come. And in preparation for that, I bought a big box of wildflower seeds. You see, I’ve got a big backyard and I really, really hate mowing it. So my intention is to replace a nice little slice of it with some wildflowers—no mowing and something pretty to look at.
Of course, I’ve never quite thought of planting seeds in the way Jesus is talking about. “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.” I don’t really think about those seeds dying when you plant them…rather it’s the opposite. But it is a very vivid image. And, after all, whether it be the soil or the compost or the excess branches—a garden is built on as much death as it is life.
Jesus is suggesting that he must die in order for the community to live. Something must be sacrificed, taken. And when that happens the vines or the wheat or the garden will bear much fruit.
But why? Why must it be death? I mean, can’t we just transplant something, graft it onto our lives? Why not just take the easy way out? Why change at all?
I suppose that is a possibility. But imagine if I just left that seed in the box. What good would that do? Jesus calls us out of our boxes, and bids us to be tested, to change, to die even. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
If we hold onto the things of this world—whether its our status, or our money, or our power, or even our clothes or cars—then we aren’t able to follow Jesus. And if we are able to let them go, even to the point that we hate them. Well, then we fall to the ground like the seed. But there in the soil, we are changed and transformed, we blossom and grow.
Now this is not the easiest thing to do. The world tells us that these things are good. The world tells us that acquiring the most property and influence is good. The world tells us that those who are different are evil. The world tells us that our problems are best solved with an overwhelming show of force. Power and greed and pettiness is good. And everything else is just a waste of our time.
But Jesus offers up something different. Those are willing to let go of what this world offers as good and are able to follow Jesus in giving themselves to others and sharing in the abundance that God has given to all through Jesus Christ—those are the ones who receive eternal life. That, is in part, how Jesus calls us to die like him. That’s how we give ourselves away.
We can’t escape the cross here. There is a cross waiting for each of us. Suffering is as much a part of life and happiness. And while the disciples wish that they could hold onto Jesus for ever, while they hope that the can achieve the glory without the sacrifice, that just cannot happen. It’s impossible. The seed has to die in order to bear the fruit.
Next week, we will hear the full story, but Jesus here is giving us a little glimpse, pointing us towards his death.
But in many ways, he’s preparing his disciples for what will come after. Because, really, his disciples know what death is. They’ve all experienced it in some way or another. We all know what death is. We can recognize it. Whether that’s a spiritual death or a physical one. We know what death does to us, to our friends, to those we don’t know. We have all felt its sting. And what more do we have to expect? It’s really just the end.
Except, as one of my friends put it recently, death is only the end if you assume the story is about you. If we are all that is, if the world is all there is, then death would be it.
Death is not the end, because the story is not about the individual seed of wheat. The story, is about much more than me or you. The story is about the beloved community, it is about Jesus, about God’s love and mercy. The story we hear over the coming days as we enter Holy Week, it’s doesn’t end with the cross or the tomb. No, it ends with the resurrection, with the ascension, with the glory.
The hour is coming for all of us to face that choice. Will we hold onto the dead things? Will we attempt to run from the cross? Will we love our lives in this world too much? As we prepare to enter that time, as we prepare to journey with Jesus and the disciples towards Easter, where do you see death in your life? What part of you needs to fall away, to return to the earth, to gestate and sprout, change and transform and becomes something glorious and life-giving and new?
There is life beyond death, eternal life, permanent life, abundant life. On these first days of spring, it begins to sprout all around us, coming from what is dead and abandoned. There is life in God, coming from the very things that the powers of this world rejects—from mercy and forgiveness, obedience and peace. While Jesus will die, he will be lifted up. And though we too will die, while some parts of us die every day—Jesus will draw us towards him, into the light, into his glory, embracing us, cultivating us in the promise of abundance in him.