Summary: Jesus was the seed that died so that we might live; we too are called to die to self so that others may live.
Monday of Holy Week 2013
Two of the privileges given to deacons in this diocese is the ability to preside at baptisms and wake services. What is striking to me every time is the use of this psalm 27, this psalm which begins this first day of three at the head of Holy Week. “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living.” At baptisms and funerals the Christ symbol is the large candle which will first be lit this coming Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil service. Christ is our light, but He is also our Leader, our King, the One we hailed yesterday with songs and palm branches. He goes before us; He shows us the way.
It’s good that He has gone before us, because the way we must all travel is overshadowed by the thought and reality of suffering and death. Jesus said: “Unless the grain of wheat die, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Those words are found later in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel which we began to read today. Death is a reality for every human being. I think the only human being who came with an expiration date was Simeon, the prophet who met the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph in the Temple a month after His birth. God had told him that he would not die until He saw the Messiah of the Lord. And so his prayer, which we as a Church recite every night before sleep, says, “Now you may dismiss your servant, O Lord, in peace according to Your promise.” The wonder is that at Baptism, God makes the same promise to each of us. We can see, and taste, the Messiah every time we come to communion. Because of His passion, death and resurrection, we can receive His glorified Body and Precious Blood under the appearances of bread and wine, and we can by that means participate daily in the fruits of His sacrifice.
Jesus is the grain of wheat who fell to the ground as He was led by the Romans to Calvary. Jesus was planted in the ground in death, but rose to new life, a new kind of human life, a divinized human life. And that passion, death and resurrection has borne fruit in our ancestors who believed and participated in His sacramental life, and in us, and in our descendants who will also enjoy the fruits of that one sacrifice. This week I want to explore the beautiful symbolism of the seed planted in the ground, and hope that it is meaningful to you as you grow in the life of Christ.
I’ve never worked for a seed company, but as a gardener I’ve bought lots of seed for planting. I understand that the best seed companies are very careful about seed selection, because they have to give a warranty of germination–some high percentage of their seeds need to actually sprout into plants, or people will stop buying their seeds.
The Catholic faith teaches us, with St. Paul, that God does carefully select the seed to plant. He did that with Jesus, as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, the virgin of Nazareth. The physical seed was, in fact, taken from Mary in some miraculous fashion. Not a clone, we know, because Jesus was truly a human man. Jesus, then, was a miracle baby–conceived without a human father but with a truly human body, soul and spirit perfectly united to His divine person.
Yet this seed was not perfect in itself. Though sinless, Jesus’s human nature was unfinished, weak, even temptable. We will see through the author of the epistle to the Hebrews that this human nature was made perfect–but only through suffering.
Now the master gardener, the Father, selects us sinful, human seeds for His garden in our day. John Calvin taught radical predestination, that some of us are predestined for heaven; others, for hell. That is heresy. St. Paul tells us that even though God selects seeds carefully, he selects all for salvation, all to bear fruit. But that means, in Christ, all of us who want to bear fruit and be in union with God must die to ourselves. So we do have free wills, to do as the Father wants or to refuse to do His will.
In selecting us, God also gives us the actual grace to accept additional grace, and especially the gift of eternal life. I know how that worked in my life, because ten days after I was born, I was in church being baptized into the faith of my ancestors. We don’t know how that works in a non-Christian culture, which we are increasingly surrounded by. But we know that God does will all to be saved, and that part of the fruit of our own selection is that we be available to spread the Word of God and help others to know the amazing love and power of the Crucified Christ. Let’s always say “yes” to that calling, always say “yes” to being the seed that dies that others may live.