Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, and asked him, “Sir, we would like 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…I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder. (John 12)
“Lord, some Gentiles have arrived to worship here in Jerusalem during Passover. Shall we bring them to you?”
An honest question from two of Christ’s faithful Apostles. The response? “Amen, amen, I say to you: the time for my death has come.”
O-kay. Gosh. Didn’t know things had gotten so serious all of a sudden. Um, earth to the Messiah: Just want to know if we should bring these Gentiles in to see you?
Did the Lord go off on a wild tangent here? Well, He received a heavenly endorsement in a voice like thunder. There must be something to what Christ said.
In Shakespeare, after Hamlet speaks to the ghost of his father, he insists that Horatio and Marcellus, who have also seen the ghost, must take an oath to keep it secret. Neither of Hamlet’s friends want to swear, so the ghost bellows out three times from the hidden realm of spirits, “Swear!”
The Lord Jesus received an even more definitive endorsement when He announced that the hour of His Passion had come. He had not gone off on a tangent. His response to Philip and Andrew fit the moment.
The earthly ministry of Christ ran its course with its own unique pathos. Christ taught, healed, expelled demons. He inspired faith. He filled the Holy Land with the glory of God. Many Jews believed. Many Jews recognized the divine visitation, and they responded with total abandonment to the mastership of Christ. Twelve of these believers became the Apostles.
But all of His earthly ministry merely served as an exquisitely unsatisfying preparation. It only tilled the soil. The Son of God could not fulfill His mission by ministering to His own people alone. He had come to sew the seed of eternal life for everyone.
So: two moments coincided, and the Lord alone could see that they inevitably had to arrive together. Peter and Andrew told Him about the Greeks. Now the Gentiles, too, had come to believe. Now the universal ministry must begin. And there was only one way to inaugurate it.
Who likes Bruce Springsteen? He and his band make some great tunes, make you think of summertime, and young love, and the beach…Yeah. Except that every song on Bruce’s new album is about death.
One ballad sings the whispers of tombstones. One is about how “all our youth and beauty, it’s been given to the dust.” And here are some lyrics from the other songs on the album:
I fell asleep on a dark and starry sea, with nothing but the cloak of God’s mercy over me. I come upon strangers and a great black cave. I dreamed I awoke as if buried in my grave. Bones of sailors from the north and sailors from the east lay high in a pyre in the valley of a beast. We’ve been swallowed up. Disappeared from this world.
Or from another song: “They left our bodies in the plains and the vultures picked our bones.” Or another one about immigrants to America: “They died to get here a hundred years ago, and they’re still dying now.”
Or from another song:
Grab your ticket and your suitcase. Thunder’s rolling down this track. You don’t know where you’re going now, but you know you won’t be back.
Death. The Gentiles came to Jerusalem for Passover to see the Messiah.
They would see Him on the cross. The thundering sky confirmed this.
There is a hypothetical situation in which the eternal Son of God could have come to reign as king and high priest without dying.
If Adam and Eve had never sinned, and the whole word endured for all of history as the Garden of Eden, and everybody was a vegan, and wolves and lambs lived as perpetual friends, and a cellphone never went off in church—under these circumstances, God could have consummated everything simply by becoming man and spreading out His holy arms in a great embrace. With no nails and no gasping breath.
But, as it is, we sinners owe God a death. We owe Him a trip into the ultimate, impenetrable darkness. Alone.
Self-restraint. Mercy. Generosity. One ancient Indian story says that the thunder speaks the names of these virtues when it sounds from the sky. Self-restraint, mercy, generosity. Could hardly paint a better picture of Christ.
The hour of death comes. How many times in our lives do we beg our Lady, “Holy Mary, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death?”
Should we fear? Fear the dark, apparently unending, solitary night of death? Well, let’s listen to the thunder.
The Savior said, just before the original Triduum, just before His death, “It is for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
And the heavens thundered out in triumph. I have glorified it. And I will glorify it again.
Death comes. Christ has conquered it.