St. Thomas’ Whitemarsh
Lent 5, Year B, 2015
The summer before I began seminary my friend Laura and I planned a grand adventure. Since I was moving from Nebraska back to the east coast, we decided to take advantage of our (relative) proximity and check out some of the beautiful national parks the southwest has to offer. Laura hadn't ever been to the Grand Canyon, and the only time I’d been I was a baby, so we decided to travel there and to Mesa Verde. We loaded up our rental car with camping equipment and food and made our way.
It took us two days to get from Omaha to the park. Getting there was half the fun: along the way we amused ourselves by reading Harry Potter out loud to each other, taking a million pictures, and stopping at random tourist attractions—how can you pass up a sign for dinosaur tracks? As the scenery changed from dancing cornfields to towering, snow-capped mountains to jutting rocks and arches to painted deserts, the anticipation built. Listening to Holtz’s “The Planets” somehow made the journey seem even more epic.
On the road we used to enter the park, the canyon was somewhat hidden. We could see gaps in the land where the ravines were carved out, but they didn't seem very impressive or grand at all. Then we turned a corner and there it was. It was absolutely magnificent!
We spent two nights camping in the Canyon, so we were able to have a small taste of its grandness. We soaked in two sunsets and a golden full moon rising over the canyon. We woke up at 3:45 to see the sunrise breathe life into the the canyon’s walls, previously muted by the darkness of night. We saw lots of wildlife, including the endangered California Condor whose wingspan can reach 9 feet. I also heard an animal prowling and sniffing outside my tent right next to my head the first night—most likely it was an elk, but I’m convinced it was one of the two local mountain lions. We spent a day hiking up and down a steep trail into the canyon and I think it wasn't until we got down a little ways and saw how little ground we had covered and how many, many miles were left until we reached the bottom that I realized just how small I was in comparison to my surroundings, or in comparison to the world or the universe.
It is one thing to hear about or see pictures of a place. It is another thing entirely to experience it in person.
Today's Gospel account takes place during the week of Passover. Jerusalem, the city of David, hosts a huge Passover celebration every year, and so people from all around the world journey there to participate in the festivities. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, cheered on by throngs of people waving palms and shouting “Hosannah!” to the man they call the “King of Israel” (John 12:13). Jesus is a local celebrity; people from all over have heard of his teaching and healing. It should come as no surprise, then, that some Greeks walk up to one of Jesus’ disciples and make this request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (v. 21). They want to see for themselves—to lay eyes on—this man who has turned their world upside down. But it is more than that; they don’t just want to shake hands or take a selfie with this superstar.
The word used for ‘see’ does not just mean ‘to lay eyes upon’; it can also be translated as experience. They are really asking Phillip, “Sir, we wish to experience Jesus.” They want to hear him bring scripture to life. They want to witness his miraculous healing. They want to know and understand and believe for themselves.
It is one thing to hear about or see pictures of someone. It is another thing entirely to experience them in person.
Most likely you and I will never see Jesus with our own eyes on this earth. But I think it’s safe to say that everyone gathered here is either seeking or has had an experience of Jesus in their lives. Most of us are able to experience God in creation, whether its beauty or its vastness or its sheer power. Some have profound, life-altering experiences of Jesus in their first taste of bread and wine on their lips. Some experience Jesus when gathered around a dying loved one, sharing stories and singing familiar hymns. And some experience Jesus through their family members, friends, or co-workers.
This week I invite you to think about how you have experienced Jesus in your life. What started you on this journey? Who have been your guides along the way? How has your life helped others to experience Jesus?
I can stand up here until I’m blue in the face and tell you details about the life of a first century Jew. I can tell you about how he worshiped and what he taught and what miracles he performed. But in the end, what people are looking for—what I am looking for—is not simply factual accounts of a great moral teacher. What we are looking for are experiences of the risen Christ. May we be blessed with experiences of Jesus that are grander than anything we can ask or imagine.
On top of the world!
The Grand Canyon living up to its name
golden sunrise over the canyon walls
California Condor flying over the canyon
I wasn't kidding about the mountain lions!
looks kind of like a senior portrait