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A Dying Grain of Wheat

My father would regularly send me a message, at least every couple of years or so, for a birthday or Christmas in the shape of a package confirming and reconfirming that I had not understood verse 24 of today’s Gospel:

“very truly I tell you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

Dad would visit once or twice in the Spring and Summer and following those trips a pair of snippers or secateurs would arrive with suitable wishes.  Sometimes, he would even send a pruning saw, silently expressing his view that things in my garden were more out of hand than usual. Taking out and discarding last year’s growth was never my strong point.  I am far too timorous and even if, when I did get around to wielding one of the many instruments from the collection, I could hear him saying “cut it back, cut it back,” I still relented and so it is that the clematis, forsythia and even the roses on my patch do not bear much fruit.

We have in these verses reached a turning point in John’s Gospel. Some Greeks have been asking to see Jesus and in this sign of the Gentile world becoming aware, interested and intrigued in his message, Jesus sees that “his hour has come.” Inevitably, this reminds us of the early pages of John and of Jesus’ words at the first miracle at the wedding in Cana where he says to Mary when she points out that the wine has run out: “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come!”

But now and for the first time, Jesus begins to speak of what will happen. It is a vital ingredient of John’s Gospel that he speaks of both death and resurrection together, saying “Now the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.” This is a consistent and important theme in John’s Gospel, distinguishing it especially from Mark, which you will remember ends simply with Jesus’ death on the cross.  John is concerned that death and resurrection are seen together as one for he wants us to appreciate the fruits of Christ’s death; the salvation of men and women, the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.

Seeds are remarkable, they come it seems to me from the death or loss of something beautiful, a flower or a bud on a tree.  They attach themselves in diverse gnarled, sticky, brown and tangled ways to Fidget’s fur and then drop off to be buried and come back as fresh green shoots somewhere new. Jesus’ metaphor of the grain of wheat stresses the abundance of the renewal: “Unless it dies it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” Of course this is a prediction about himself, his one (almost unremarkable) death will give rise in his resurrection to the flowering of the Christian church to the ends of the earth but as well, as he goes on to say, this is an image of how we should live our earthly lives. In a foretaste of the garden of Gethsemane, we are told that we should be prepared to lose our worldly life, to die to selfish things, not to value this world above what is to come but to live and love serving the Father.

In our Lent course we have been studying W H Davis’ poem “Leisure” reflecting on how our concerns with daily life sometimes prevent us from seeing God’s presence in our surroundings, in the beauty of nature and in those around us.

Just as I should take my secateurs to the tangle of my garden so might we perhaps prune our lives, let go of worldly things, die to self, and then intently seek those seeds that we may plant so to better serve God and one another and to grow together in fruitfulness.


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