Sunday, 22 March 2015

Passion Sunday

The most striking image of today comes from the Gospel read at the Eucharist. Jesus is portrayed in the Temple speaking with some of his disciples, alluding to his death and its eventual outcome. 

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24) 
This single grain of spelt, an ancient strain of wheat, is the width of a fingernail. We're used to seeing them in large numbers and associate them with sowing and harvesting. Alone like this, its potential is unrecognisable. Cast into soil it seems lost, yet while out of sight in the darkness of its natural environment, it soon begins its growth into a mature plant in which this seed is replicated hundreds of times over. Domestication of wild wheat is thought to have begun 9,500 years ago. Globally, it is the main source of vegetable protein in the human diet. It finds mention in scripture almost forty times.

"For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey " (Deut 8:7-8)

God's Promised Land is a a fertile place where wheat and barley crops have already been cultivated for over six thousand years. The rhythms of sowing and harvesting, and the ritual celebrations that accompany this punctuate the passage of the year.

"This is the offering that you shall offer: a sixth of an ephah from a homer of wheat; a sixth of an ephah from a homer of barley" (Ezek 45:13)

"You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year." (Exod 34:22)

Having enough wheat to meet everyone's need was considered a blessing from God worthy of praise.

"Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your sons within you. He makes peace in your borders; He satisfies you with the finest of the wheat." (Ps 147:12-14)

Abundance of wheat at harvest time gave farmers an opportunity to be generous to poorer neighbours by allowing them to follow the reapers and collect up stalks of grain discarded or missed entirely as was the case with the widowed Ruth

"So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law." (Ruth 2:23)

John the Baptist speaks of Jesus as one who will come like a harvester and sort out the wheat from the chaff.

"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matt 3:11-12)

In warning Peter that his own impetuosity puts him at risk, Jesus returns to this image, but uses it quite differently.

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-2)

He speaks about separating wheat and weeds at the right time in a parable about divine judgement.

"He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. "But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also." (Matt 13:24-30)

Wheat was ground into flour for consumption as bread, and some of it became a thank-offering to God in appreciation for his bounty. Also at Passover, unleavened wheat bread was a feature of the celebration commemorating God's people's deliverance from captivity in Egypt. 

"... unleavened bread and unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil; you shall make them of fine wheat flour. You shall put them in one basket, and present them in the basket along with the bull and the two rams. " (Exodus 29:2-3)

At the last supper Jesus followed Passover custom. The bread he blessed was made of wheat. Paul repeats what he's learned, from the other Apostles, repeating what is stated in the first three Gospels

"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread" (1 Cor 11:23)

And when Paul strives to explain the resurrection of the dead he falls back on an image which has already been made familiar by Jesus in speaking about about the meaning of his own death.

"... that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own." (1 Cor 15:37-8)
The most profound significance has become attached to the most commonplace of earth's foodstuffs, and not without good reason, to keep us mindful of all God has done for us.

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