Unless a seed…

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Last Sunday our church was celebrating our patron Saints, St. Philip and St James, and it reminded me of this reading:

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 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.

John 12.20-24

As soon as Jesus has offered this enigmatic saying about a grain of wheat, you have the sense in the gospel of things moving in a very definite direction – towards Jerusalem, and confrontation with the authorities, and Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion.

This year as I went through Holy Week and thought about all of this, an image came to my mind. When Jesus begins his ministry he talks about all that he is going to do – bring sight to the blind, healing to the lame, good news to the poor – and we see the stories of him doing just this – and going from place to place, showing by his words and his actions the wideness of God’s love. It’s a big canvas.

Then as he moves towards his final days we see the focus for Jesus narrowing down from that wide and rich ministry, as he bases himself only in Jerusalem, and then gathers with his small group of disciples around the table at the last supper, and then takes just his three closest followers to Gethsemane. Finally Jesus stands alone before his accusers, and is tried and sentenced and beaten and taken away to be crucified, a sad solitary figure.

And at the end his body is taken down from the cross and laid lifeless in the smallest, narrowest place. Shut out of the world. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain…

I’ve just put some seed down to try to fill the patches on my lawn. If the pigeons leave any of it to grow it should make a difference – but when I put my hand in the box what came out was dry, dusty and apparently lifeless. Hard to believe that with some water and warmth, new life will emerge from it.

It was hard for the disciples to believe as well. But on Easter Day we see a new movement beginning. From the smallest beginnings – the meeting with Mary, the appearances in the upper room – the new life of Jesus begins to break into the world. And it begins to spread wider and wider – from Jerusalem and Galilee the surrounding country and then all around the Eastern Mediterranean. From the first followers to a bigger and bigger group – Jews and Gentiles – women and men from many countries and cultures – then on to Rome, and eventually all around the world.

This is the movement that we are part of. The same new life and growth flows through us. It reminds me of what Dylan Thomas called ‘the force that through the green shoot drives the flower’. From that one apparently lifeless seed new life has blossomed and much fruit has indeed been borne – more and more fruit producing more and more seeds – and so the new life and new growth go on spreading. It’s a bit like blowing a dandelion clock and seeing each of those seeds take off into the wind.

We may not always feel full of growth and life. We sometimes feel more dry and dusty and a bit dead. But that’s what seeds look like too. The words of Jesus are a promise that in our lives and through our lives he is growing and bearing fruit. Sometimes we can see that when we look back over our life with him – the ways that God has brought new life and growth to us. And the ways he is doing that through us – even though we often don’t know where the seeds will land and how they will grow. We are part of the Easter story – God’s new life spreading out into the world. You might like to go to find a dandelion clock to blow…

Lord Jesus, we thank you for being willing to give up your life, so be reduced to nothing, a lifeless seed, so that God’s love could flow out to us and to all the world in a new way.

We thank you for your life in us, working in our lives, bringing hope and healing, purpose and joy. When your life is hidden, and we feel dry and lifeless, help us to trust in you, and to learn to recognise the ways in which you are with us.

We thank you that you promise to grow your life in the world through us – you call us to share with you in this work of planting seeds of love and compassion and faith. May we be open to the guidance of your Spirit, and may our lives bear much fruit.

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