Continuing with my work in progress, a new sequence of sonnets called ‘Parable and Paradox’, which this term I am linking with a sermon series at Girton, I come to Christ’s central and challenging saying
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit John 12 verse 24
This saying comes at a crucial turning point in John’s Gospel; Jesus has often been saying ‘My Hour has not yet come’, but just before this verse he says ‘The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified’! And so begins the unbearable, beautiful, all transforming sequence of paradoxes in which God’s power is shown forth in weakness, Christ’s Lordship is know in the service and his willing death at the hands of those who hate him releases Life and love inton the world, and Death’s apparent moment of triumph turns out to be death’s defeat, as Christ himself the Gospel seed is sown in the Garden tomb and rises on Easter day, the first fruits of those who sleep.
and yet there is more, the first and prime reference of this saying about falling into the earth and dying in order to bear fruit is certainly Christ’s own death and resurrection, but he goes on immediately after to make it clear that this is a universal principle; those who love their life lose it, those who set it aside gain it eternally. this is true at every level, we all know that selfishness is self-defeating, that clinging and possessing destroys and spoils the treasure or the relationship we over-possess and on the contrary letting go, restores it. Blake knew that when he wrote in the auguries of innocence:
He who binds to himself a joy
doth its winged life destroy
but he who kisses the joy as it flies
loves in eternity’s sunrise.
I have tried to weave some of these thoughts into the following sonnet which also draws on the other biblical image, which calls on us to be separated from the outer husk of our sinfulness and be left ‘sheer and clear’ as Hopkins says, to be God’s harvest.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and after it I have also posted a link to a recording of the accompanying sermon
‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies…’
Oh let me fall as grain to the good earth
And die away from all dry separation,
Die to my sole self, and find new birth
Within that very death, a dark fruition,
Deep in this crowded underground, to learn
The earthy otherness of every other,
To know that nothing is achieved alone
But only where these other fallen gather.
If I bear fruit and break through to bright air,
Then fall upon me with your freeing flail
To shuck this husk and leave me sheer and clear
As heaven-handled Hopkins, that my fall
May be more fruitful and my autumn still
A golden evening where your barns are full.
You can listen to the sermon, second in the Parable and Paradox series at Girton College Here
4 responses to “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground…”
Your words are such a lovely way to start the weekend, Malcolm.
I am struck again about the way in which Jesus seems to be able to hold the sense of glory and his fear together without trying to separate them out. Or did he hope that he might be able to separate them out but then realised that he could not do it? Falling into the earth & dying must be accompanied by cries of “Save me! I’m dying!” “They are trying to kill me!” Or as we look about us accompanied by laments of “The church is dying!” “Our civilisation is dying!” “The earth is dying!” This is the terror that Kierkegaard or Dostoevesky evoke. Only those who are truly afraid have the possibility of finding the glory.
You are absolutely right Steven that is why we need to recover the Bible’s positive understanding of the word dread