When a minister works with a grieving family on preparing the funeral liturgy, there are a few distinct approaches when it comes to selecting Scripture readings. Perhaps it is appropriate to find something suggestive of the deceased. The just man or the worthy wife catch attention. Often, we want a hopeful message–something like “Do not let your hearts be troubled” or “God will destroy death forever.” Sometimes, we are looking for something suggestive of God or Jesus Christ.
John’s Gospel can be difficult, and it’s no wonder this passage is an infrequent choice for funerals. Too bad.
Jesus told his disciples:
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves their life loses it,
and whoever hates their life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.
“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.”
Maybe we’re hung up on loving and hating our life. One way or the other. Keep in mind this is the Jewish rabbi grabbing our attention. Love and hate are vivid. Jesus is not lying, deceiving, or exaggerating that much, I think. He wants us to notice his words and be troubled by them. He’s shaking us up to get our priorities in order. Are we focused too much on loving the things of this world? He means the wealth, the prestige, the honors, the luxuries, the privileges. Obviously, the funeral of a public official is not going to benefit from including this gospel. What about a bishop or perhaps a priest? Well that might have unintended irony.
To me, it’s clear that this gospel fits a vowed religious, or a lay person with a long history of service through sacrifice.
This passage, so close to Jesus’ Passion and Death, clearly sends the message that if Christ himself could not avoid sacrifice and death, we followers cannot expect any less treatment. If a person has served Christ well, that person has imitated the Lord. That imitation must, according to this passage, include embracing the experience of death and loss in order to transcend to a closer union with God.
The funeral rites give the option of a shorter version, omitting verses 27-28 (after the break, above). Does Jesus’ experience of “trouble” and the Father’s assent distract from the core message of grain, death, growth, love, and imitation? Likely it depends on the situation.