A sermon for the Eucharist on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, 21 March 2021
Preacher: Canon Nigel Davies, Vicar of the Close
Please scroll down to the bottom of this page for a video of this sermon.
They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’
We know most about Philip from John’s Gospel. His first appearance is when Jesus seeks him out and asks him to become one of his disciples. We are told that Jesus decided to go to Galilee and went specifically to find Philip, who came from the same town that Peter and Andrew came from, and asked him directly to become a follower. Philip responded positively, but also drew in Nathanial, presumably one of his friends, enticing him with the news that he had come across the Messiah. When Nathaniel is sceptical, he utters words beloved of children the world over ‘Come and see!’
The next time we come across Philip Jesus is quizzing him about how the disciples can come up with enough provisions to feed 5,000 hungry people. Philip is blunt in his assessment of the situation – “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little”, but Philip’s friend Andrew is on hand to hear the conversation and make the tentative suggestion, about the young boy with a modest picnic, yet still sharing Philip’s scepticism ‘What are they among so many people?’
Philip’s next appearance in John’s Gospel is in the portion of scripture that you have just heard me read. Some Greeks were keen to have a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, and because his name is Greek; because he was from the town of Bethsaida, which bears a Greek name meaning ‘place of fishing’; it might perhaps have been that he knew some Greek and could understand their request. He does, but Philip true to form, goes to find his friend Andrew and together they put the request to Jesus.
Why their cautious approach to Jesus who was normally so welcoming of others? The reason perhaps, is found in the rest of the chapter, which as you might remember begins John’s narrative of Jesus’ last days, beginning 6 days before the Passover, taking us right through the Crucifixion and then to the Resurrection appearances. On the way there is much significant teaching for his disciples, and subsequent Christians, for all time.
The atmosphere must have been highly charge. One can imagine that Jesus would have had an air of preoccupation about him, seem distracted even, as he contemplated his ‘doom’. You can understand why Philip might have been reluctant to ask Jesus about such a meeting and want the moral support of his friend.
In contemporary language one might say that ‘Jesus went off on one.’ It was not the reply that the Greeks would have wanted to hear, and it was doubtless perplexing for Philip and Andrew to hear the words of Jesus! You can almost imagine Philip’s aside to Andrew, “Gosh – they only wanted to say ‘Hello’!”, no doubt said after Jesus had left the scene, and hidden from them, as vs 36 of the chapter tells us.
Philip’s final appearance in John, occurs during Jesus’ discourse during the Last Supper. Philip once again is in ‘show and tell’ mode – the disciple whose opening gambit to Nathaniel was, ‘Come and See’, wants to see ‘…the Father’, a not unreasonable request, from one of Jesus’ close friends, one might think. The request results in this revelatory reply from Jesus:
‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’
You might be wondering why I have been focusing on Philip who in terms of our Gospel reading plays only a small part in the 264 words, that make up this pericope. Is it because I am nervous of delving into the words of Jesus, which follow Philip and Andrew’s request, and the ‘voice from heaven’ which those who heard it thought was thunder, only John being privy to the voice’s disclosure? Yes and No.
Reflecting on the story, understanding it’s significance in the Christian scheme of things, its importance to faith and order, right believe and the like, is undeniably important, however most of us in our daily lives, are more likely to be asked about ‘Seeing Jesus’ or ‘Seeing God’, for in my experience, people sit lightly to Creedal statements and Doctrinal assertions and are like the Greeks, wanting an ‘encounter’. So where might we show people Jesus and the Father? Where might they have an encounter with Jesus and the Father?
We might suggest that they stroll round the Cathedral after the 17th May and have a look at the visual aids that surround us. There are many representations of Jesus and The Father in the building, graphically and symbolically. Art is a rich vein to mine as we are discovering through Maggie Guillebaud’s Lenten Reflections. Casting our net a little wider, a Google search told me that there were 826, 000, 000 images of Jesus and a further 25, 200, 000 images of God – not bad for a being who to mortal eyes is, ‘invisible’.
Joking aside, if asked by a visitor to the Cathedral, by an acquaintance or a close friend, ‘We (or I) wish to see Jesus’ where would be direct them? If it were a close friend, I would hope they would have seen something of Jesus in the way we live our lives, that our faith is deeds as well as words, that we are incarnating Jesus in our lives. A visitor or casual acquaintance could be directed to a Christian Community, or the Church in General, for it is here that those who want to find Jesus, want to see his love in action, want to see God’s love manifest, should see the evidence. It should be apparent in the lives of Christians, because as the Old Testament Lesson made clear, concerning the relationship redeemed humanity should enjoy with God:
‘I will put my law within them,
and I will write it on their hearts…’
If that isn’t clear enough, may I point you in the direction of Terresa of Avila, who has stated unequivocally, that the only way the love of God, through Jesus, is made visible to the world, is in the lives of Christians, Christian Communities, and the Life of the Church.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”