I was in the last few weeks of my internship at St. John Lutheran Church in Sumner, Iowa and looking forward to the end. It wasn’t that it had been a terrible year; it had been a fantastic year that had and continues to shape my ministry. But, it had been a long year. My supervisor and dear friend had lost both of his parents in the span of about a month or so. We had two people commit suicide right around Holy Week. It was just a challenging year in the life of that church. I had set some goals for myself that didn’t necessarily relate to ministry. I wanted to milk cows, drive a combine, and learn how to play chess. I still don’t know how to play chess, but I got the others done.
The members of St. John, probably much like all of you, always liked to see the city girl in awkward situations that made “normal farm folk” laugh. I didn’t know what I was in for when my phone rang one afternoon and Brenda was on the other line. “Hey, we’re gonna do chickens tomorrow. Do you want to be out here around 9?” Having gotten to know Brenda and her family, I knew that “do chickens” meant that it was chicken processing day. So, the city girl got prepared and went out to “do chickens.” I learned a lot that day, and I’ll spare you the details of some of it, but one of the things that still makes me giggle is that when it was time for lunch, we had sloppy joes. “We don’t eat chicken on processing day” said Brenda. I understood why. I had seen my fair share that day.
“We wish to see Jesus” said the Greeks. I don’t know that the Greeks really understood their request. It was kind of like wanting to know where my eggs and fresh chickens came from but then knowing and seeing too much. It’s like the old saying that you often times don’t want to see or know how the sausage gets made. At the same time, I think we also have that desire: to see Jesus. I saw this quote this past week and I just can’t get it out of my head. “Has Jesus become wallpaper in our churches? We assume his presence but have stopped seeing his action and naming his name.” Ouch.
How in the world can Jesus be like wallpaper? Well, it’s as if we know he is there, but we forget to really notice it. Then usually we don’t do anything with, about, or for Jesus until we really need him; our “just in case Jesus.” Or this might also be known as the “break in case of emergency Jesus.” Jesus becomes like wallpaper when our focus goes away from the cross and towards something else that we spend our time and energy on. It’s as if we manage to treat Jesus as if he is some kind of second hand citizen. “Sure, Jesus is here” we may say “but, I still can’t believe what Pastor so-and-so did.” Or we might say “of course we worship the crucified and resurrected Christ but have you seen our new such-and-such?” And our eyes turn from the cross over and over and over. As a coach would say “we take our eyes off the ball.”
Often when we say “we wish to see Jesus” what we really want to see is a Jesus that is formed in our image, and not the other way around. What we really want to see is a Jesus who rescues us when we’ve gotten in over our heads. What we really want to see is a Jesus we can talk to when we or loved ones have serious health issues. What we really want to see is a Jesus who we lean on in the time of national tragedy. What we don’t want is the Jesus who is going to hold us accountable for being an advocate for those who have less. What we don’t want to see is the Jesus who says “where were you when my people were hungry?” What we don’t want to see is the Jesus who says “I’m still waiting to hear a confession of the sin we both know you committed.” What we don’t want to see is the Jesus who is going to convict us to our very core and make us question everything we believe but for the good.
We definitely don’t want to see the Jesus who will point to our sinful ways and ask “why?” We don’t want to see the Jesus who sits patient but only for so long as our churches continue to look inward instead of out. And trust me, we don’t want to see the Jesus that catches us saying “what can Christ do for me” instead of the other way around. See the problem is, friends, is that what we really want to see is the Easter morning, resurrected, “see, I told you so” Jesus. But we can’t see that Jesus without seeing the beaten, bruised, spit on, crucified Jesus.
When we want to say “we wish to see Jesus” we can’t specify the amount we want to see or what realm of life he was in that we’d like to see, or even how or when we’d like to see him. We get Jesus, just as he is, all of him for all of us. But to say something daring like “we wish to see Jesus” means that we have to face reality. Wishing to see Jesus is like my experience with the chickens or (pardon me) learning how sausage is made. You can’t unsee it. The thing is, being a disciple, as Christ calls us to be, means proclaiming that we are resurrection people. However, we can’t be resurrection people without also being crucifixion people. And all too often we want to skip over the bloody, gory, parts of the crucifixion and skip right to the resurrection. But that’s not the way it works. We cannot have one without the other.
When we desire to see Jesus (and to see him more than just wallpaper on our churches) it means coming face to face with the cross and the reason for the cross. Jesus died on that cross so that you could be and are set free from your sins. At the same time, our sins is what caused his death. He died so that we might live. And so while it may be hard, difficult, maybe even close to impossible to look at what we did to our savior on the cross, we have no choice. When we want to see Jesus, we have to look at the cross. And when we look at that cross, we have to see suffering. When we look at the cross, we see humanity suffering and crying out so that we may never ever have to suffer. When we look at the cross, we see blood poured out and tears mixed with sweat, but upon closer look, it looks like forgiveness. Before we are quick to shout with acclamation “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” let us not forget that those shouts were quickly followed by angry yells of “crucify him!”
I hope we all desire to see Jesus. And I pray we all desire to know Jesus, to feel him acting in our lives, to proclaim him to all that will listen, and to love him deeper than anything else. But when we express a desire to see Jesus, we can’t shy away. We can’t turn our heads in shame for what we did to him on that cross. Seeing Jesus means seeing all of Jesus. The desire to see Jesus also cannot be a desire we save just for the times in our lives when things aren’t going so well. I pray that we train our eyes and hearts to see Jesus in all ways and in all days. And I pray that when we desire to look at Jesus or to see Jesus that we look in the eyes and at the faces of those around us. To proclaim “we wish to see Jesus” is bold and daring. But don’t shield your eyes; don’t look away. The love you will see and experience, even if that love is coming from a cross, is overwhelming, powerful, and life giving.