John 12:20-33

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Now, in this season, in these many months, our own souls—and our bodies—are troubled. We’ve had a whole year of not living what we think of as a normal life. Even now that many of us are getting vaccinated, we still aren’t sure what “normal life” is ever going to mean again. And we’ve lost many along the way. We’ve also had months of politics that are not anything like what we think of as normal. We’ve seen hate-speech-fomented violence against black lives, and Asian-American lives. We wonder what disorienting upheaval in our common life is in store for us next. How can we not be troubled, in soul and in body?

So like this troubled Jesus, we really, really want to ask God to save us from this hour, this season, this tumultuous time.

But what if engaging this tumultuous time is an inescapably vital part of why we’re here? What if “it is for this reason that [we] have come to this hour”?

I don’t mean that this particular time, with us in it, was planned out exactly from the beginning. As I’ve said before, it seems more in line with what the Biblical writers usually say about God to see God and us and the whole world as involved in a constant, vastly unpredictable dialogue. This means, for example, that at the big bang (or however you imagine our ultimate origin) it was not inevitable that COVID-19 would show up to plague us, or even that you and I in particular would be here to be plagued by it. It wasn’t all “fixed” from the beginning.

But of course, if we are involved in this sort of unpredictable dialogue, some things definitely are predictable in general. And one of those predictable things is that the dialogue is going to be full of troublesome, tumultuous times. Those times are not preventable, not even by God, not if God wants a dialogue.

But in God’s all-embracing love, they are still redeemable. Times like these can always be reworked into something good. That doesn’t mean they were any less devastating, but they are never the last word. The last word is God‘s constant work of reconciliation.

All who share God’s image are being drawn relentlessly to share in that self-giving, constant work of reconciliation, to find our lives by letting them go. “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’ve said this before too: “God is at work in our lives, not just to make things go more pleasantly, but to make things go more deeply, not to keep us from frustration and grief but to open us to a whole world of frustration and grief that God endures far more intimately than we ever will, endures it all so that everyone’s healing can begin, not just ours. There’s deep joy in this, to be sure, but it’s a compassionate joy, not an oblivious cheerfulness, a joy that’s never satisfied with leaving anyone on the outside.”

So let me ask again: what if engaging this tumultuous time is an inescapably vital part of why we’re here? What if “it is for this reason that [we] have come to this hour”?

If that’s the reason, that doesn’t mean your soul won’t still be troubled. If Jesus’ soul was troubled, why shouldn’t yours be? Why not rail in protest, as the writers of the Psalms so often did? You probably need to do that. Probably all of us do (I’m very good at telling myself I’m just fine when I’m not).

Just know that your protest at the way things are going is a reflection of God’s protest at the way things are going. It’s a way of being drawn more deeply into the all-reconciling life that God is sharing with you.

And maybe you will hear the voice of God in all of this. That’s what Jesus heard as he rediscovered his fundamental calling. It’s what some of his listeners heard too. Others just heard a senseless noise. Maybe it just didn’t sound like the helicopter parent God they wanted to have. Maybe what we hear depends on what we are open to hear.

If all you hear is senseless noise right now, you’re in lots of company, even good company. May we all come to hear more.