“The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35b). These words from Jesus in our text stood out to me more than usual this year. The reason is obvious. Things may have changed by the time you read these words, but as I write this reflection (two weeks before Palm Sunday), I suspect we will be walking in darkness for quite some time.
Jesus was not talking about the coronavirus, of course. He was talking about Himself and about reality for those who live apart from Him. But the light/darkness metaphor is always apt for those who live by faith and it is a prominent theme throughout John’s Gospel (see John 1:1-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:1-5; 11:8-10; 12:46). So, without reading present circumstances haphazardly into the text and without taking this half-verse completely out of context, you might consider preaching a Palm Sunday sermon by reflecting on the reality of what we do not know. If the pattern continues, we will stumble into Holy Week this year unsure about many things we have been taking for granted for a long time, which is a discomforting thought, but it is also honest. We may be hesitant to acknowledge it, and we often do a fairly good job of convincing ourselves otherwise, but much of life is unknown. Indeed, most of life is lived without knowing exactly what comes next.
The crowds on Palm Sunday were in such a situation. They had gone out to meet Jesus because He had raised Lazarus from the dead (12:17-18). But they did not understand why He had come or where He would lead them. Their disappearance later in the week reveals their ignorance. The disciples were similarly unaware. John explicitly tells us they did not understand what Jesus was doing as He rode into Jerusalem on the donkey (12:16), and this was not the first time John describes what the disciples did not know about Jesus (see 2:21-22). In both cases, they were in the dark until after His resurrection. Only in the light of Easter did they understand who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him.
This could be a helpful connection for your hearers today. More this year than most, we are acutely aware of our ignorance. Like the crowds and disciples at the beginning of Holy Week, we do not know what is coming next. But, also like the disciples in John 2:22 and 12:16, we have heard about Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. We believe, having been lifted-up, He is in the process of drawing all people to Himself (12:32). That is why we continue to gather (in person and on-line) to celebrate such things as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. We are witnesses of His glorification through His suffering, death, and victory over the grave. Our God-given faith, despite our lack of sight, has made us sons and daughters of light (12:36) who walk in the light even during dark times.
As you consider the questions and fears that characterize your hearers’ lives these days, I would suggest you help them begin Holy Week this year by naming and facing directly their present uncertainties. Invite them to identify with the disciples who were in the dark all week long. The disciples did not see the resurrection coming, and as a result they spent much of the week in fear and confusion.
But we know, and you have the privilege of proclaiming, the resurrection was coming. Indeed, that it has come! Which means we know where the present situation will lead. We do not know how, or when, or what will take place in the short-term. But we do know, and you will proclaim clearly and confidently, that Jesus has risen from the dead. More than this, He promises resurrection for all who trust in Him. No amount of social-distancing, or quarantining, or stay-at-home orders, or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the resurrecting love of God in Christ. He has made us sons and daughters of light and He sends us to live in and share His light with a world struggling through darkness and uncertainty.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 12:20-43
Text Week -A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 12:20-43.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Detlev Schulz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 12:20-43.
Alternative Reading Resources for the Sunday of the Passion
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 26:1-27:66.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 26:1-27:66.