Now My Soul is Troubled

Four-part harmony surrounded me as I sat on the padded pew, legs not quite reaching the floor and I balanced that blue songbook in my lap as I added my little voice to the congregation’s song; there were many aspects of the Christian tradition that raised me, but none so much as the hymns we sang in communion together. “On a hill far away, stood an old wooden cross,” and “tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder,” these are songs that provided the backdrop for the scenes of my childhood, and when I sing them still, my strong Middle Tennessee comes out in full force. One of these songs is “I have decided to follow Jesus;” it’s a simple song that is easy to pick up, but it’s the last verse in this song that has been playing in my head while I prayed through the text for today, though: “The world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back, no turning back.”

This is where we find Jesus on this Holy Tuesday. The world behind him, the cross before him, no turning back, no turning back. In our passage today, some Greek speaking Jews who came for Passover came along and encountered Philip, and told him that they wished to see Jesus. Philip went to Andrew, and together they approached Jesus with this request. Jesus begins his response by reminding them that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” a gentle reminder that their call to difficult discipleship was really just beginning. Jesus then goes on to use the metaphor of the grain of wheat finding new life through death. Then Jesus moves on to talk more explicitly about his coming death, “Now my soul is troubled,” our Christ says as he asks the rhetorical question about whether or not he might ask the Father to save him from this hour. Then a voice comes from heaven to affirm the glorification of the Father’s name; the crowd can’t quite decide if it was thunder or an angel speaking to Jesus, but Jesus assures them that it was a voice from heaven spoken for the sake of the people. When Jesus inevitably dies and is literally raised up, he tells them, he will draw all people to himself. As the crowd continues to question him further, Jesus responds with a reminder that “the light is with you for a little longer” and encourages them to not walk in the dark so that the darkness will not overtake them. Then Jesus goes and hides from them.

There’s so much that I love about the Jesus presented here for us in this part of the gospel according to John. I love that there are metaphors and voices from heaven; I love that Jesus speaks in opaque, but clearly foreshadowing ways about his own death and resurrection. I love that at the end of this passage Jesus goes away and hides from the people, needing just a bit of space during a packed week. But what I love most about this Jesus that we find on Holy Tuesday is that we get to hear Jesus’ concern about what is to come. “Now my soul is troubled,” our Savior says. Now my soul is troubled. Jesus knows that the world is soon to be behind him and the cross lays ahead and that there is no turning back, and he is open about how troubling this is. Now my soul is troubled.

Holy Week requires a lot of those of us who choose to walk with Jesus to the cross. And I’m not just talking about how full our calendar can get in the days leading up to Easter. Holy Week requires a lot of us because it makes us stay with the Jesus whose soul is troubled. Now, this isn’t a difficult task because we don’t know pain and suffering ourselves, in fact, no doubt many of us know it deep in our bones when Jesus says, “Now my soul is troubled.” To stay with this Jesus is difficult because we don’t get to fast-forward; we don’t get to rush to the cross, and we certainly can’t make the resurrection come any quicker that it already does, but Holy Week makes us sit with the Jesus who is enduring suffering and pain in this life just like us. Because Jesus didn’t just suffer on the cross, he suffered in life, too.

The truth of suffering in this life is that it is something that each of us have experienced, and it is never experienced in the same way. We will never fully know how Jesus experienced the suffering of his soul on that day with the crowd as he waited for the cross. Our suffering is unique, each of us carry our own pains and troubles, and nothing good comes from trying to compare them. Nothing good comes from holding up a time in which we could also say, “Now my soul is troubled,” with what motivated Jesus to say it here. The truth of suffering in this life is that it is something that each of us have experienced; the truth of suffering is that all of us know it, but just as true to the Christian faith is that we need not carry it alone.

Those Greek speaking Jews who came up to Phillip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” didn’t come right out and say, “Sir, our souls are troubled,” but they definitely could have. Those whose souls are troubled, those who are suffering in this life are desperate to see Jesus; they are desperate to have hope. And even as we stay in Holy Week, even as we stay with the Jesus whose soul is troubled as he knows the cross is ahead of him and that there is no turning back, it is our job as those who claim to be followers of Christ to be looking to show people Jesus.

There are so many in our own churches, our community, and in this world, who are desperate to see Jesus. Ma’am we wish to see Jesus; sir, our souls are troubled. There are so many whose suffering feels impenetrable, so many who feel that their troubled souls are alone. And if there’s one thing in this life that we are not, it is alone. Our troubled souls are never alone; just as Jesus wasn’t alone with his own troubled soul as he waited for cross, neither are we. Know this: God is present. God is present with us in suffering; God is present with us in the long walk of Holy Week, and God is present even when our souls feel troubled.

Because the word of hope that Jesus offers the crowd that day is a word of hope for us today, even as we suffer. Even as our own souls are troubled or even as we walk with Jesus whose soul is as well, we can remember what Jesus tells the crowd. “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light so that the darkness may not overtake you.” As disciples of Christ, we are tasked with reflecting this light; we are tasked with showing the desperate, troubled souls who wish to see Jesus that they are not alone, that God is with them, and that the hope of the resurrection, even as we wait for the crucifixion, is real. So, as you continue in your walk with Jesus to the cross this Holy Week, know that the light is with you, that God is with you, even as you walk through this life with a troubled soul.

A sermon delivered to the people of the Downtown Bowling Green Congregations at The Presbyterian Church for Holy Tuesday, April 16, 2019 on John 12: 20-36.

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