“I’m beginning to suspect that the second half of life is about learning to let go of everything I feverishly collected over the first half of life” - -Michael Xavier

I am currently in the process of sifting through the many items in the home Grant and I made together over our thirty-year marriage. Deciding what to discard, what to donate, what no longer serves the life I am living now, what can be more useful to someone else and those items that I genuinely treasure. This week I tackled something I have been avoiding for a long time: sorting through the many, many family photographs, DVD recordings, and even some slides and reel-to-reel memories. I’m sure most of you can relate to this. There comes a time when whatever we have acquired has to be surrendered.

“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” . This pattern of loss and renewal runs throughout our lives and our world. You’ve all lived and experienced this, sometimes by choice and other times by circumstances beyond your control.

This pattern is present in your life too. Have you ever fallen in love and committed your life to another? If so, you had to let parts of your old life go and something of your single life die so that you could be with that other person. If you are a parent you know that there are sacrifices to be made in order for the new life of your child to emerge and grow. We give up parts of ourselves for the other. Parents are continually letting go of their child so that they can grow up. Have you ever been the caretaker of another? If so, you could name the parts of your life that died so that another might live with dignity, compassion, and love.

What are the costs, the losses, you paid for an education or a career? You made certain sacrifices so that other things could become. For every choice we make, every yes we say, there is at least one no and probably many. We see this same pattern in nature in the changing of the seasons, falling leaves and new blooms, and the setting and rising of the sun.

Think about the scriptural stories of loss and renewal. Innocence in Adam and Eve died so that consciousness might be born. Abram left his country and family so that as Abraham, he might become the father of a great nation, a blessing to all the families of the earth. Jacob lost his old identity and was wounded so that he could become a new man, Israel, with a new life. James and John left their father, boats, and nets to become disciples of Jesus and fishers of people. Jesus taught his disciples, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again” .

In religious terms we call this the Paschal Mystery, this pattern of loss and renewal, dying and rising, letting go and getting back, leaving, and returning. It’s at the core of our baptism and it’s what we declare every Sunday in the eucharist.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

What in your life do you need to let go of today? What might you need to leave behind? What needs to die so that something new can grow in you?

It’s no coincidence that today’s Gospel is set in the context of the Passover feast, the celebration of the Israelites’ liberation from bondage in Egypt. It’s about freedom and new life. It’s about letting go, leaving behind, and moving into a new life.

Some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip tells Andrew about the Greeks and together they tell Jesus. And Jesus says to them, “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.” That’s his response to those who want to see him; to the Greeks, to you, to me.

And dying is not just about our physical death. We die a thousand deaths throughout our lifetime. The loss of a loved one, a relationship, health, opportunities, a dream; all deaths we didn’t want or ask for. Other times we choose our losses and deaths. We give up parts of ourselves for another. We change our beliefs and values so that we can be more authentically ourselves. And sometimes there are things we need to let go of, things we cling to that deny us the fullness of life we want and God offers: fear, anger or resentment, regret and disappointment, guilt, the need to be right, approval.

Seeing Jesus is about following him. It is a way to be followed, a truth to be embodied, a life to be lived. It’s being a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies so that it might bear much fruit. That’s where we see him. It’s in the letting go, the emptying, the leaving behind, and the dying that makes space for new life in us.

You’ve probably had at least one time in your life that when you look back on it you say, “I never want to go through that again. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.” What is that time for you? What happened? As difficult or painful as that experience was it bore much fruit. You were changed and your life was renewed. It was one of those times when you were the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died. And it may well be a time when somehow, you saw Jesus and knew he was working in your life.

The greatest loss in my life so far has been the sudden death of my beloved husband. God knows I’ve learned a lot about myself and life as a result of that, and my life has been reshaped and reformed in some ways I couldn’t have imagined. I know I’ve seen Jesus. But I would trade it all to have Grant back. And maybe that’s what I need to let go of. Maybe that’s my grain of wheat that needs to fall into the earth and die. That doesn’t mean I don’t want him back or that I would not undo what has happened if I could. It just means that I want to trust Jesus’ promise of new life more than my wishful thinking. And sometimes that’s really hard. You know that as well as I do.

Letting go, however, does not mean rejection or walking away or forgetting. And it does not mean choosing absence over presence. Instead, letting go is what allows us to be more authentically present to ourselves and another. It makes room for new life and new ways of being present to arise. Our letting go gives God something to work with.

What is the grain of wheat in your life today that needs to fall into the earth and die? What are the things that if you lost them you are sure you would just die? Maybe those are the very places waiting to bear much fruit in your life. Maybe that’s where you’ll see Jesus.

This truth, this pattern of loss and renewal, will be unveiled every day throughout Holy Week. I think that’s why we hear this Gospel today, a week before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week. It’s our preparation for Holy Week. And you know where Holy Week ends, right? At Easter, the empty tomb, the dawn of a new day, and the renewal of life. The single grain has become the Bread of Life.

But you also know that you don’t plant a seed and go back in ten minutes or the next day and see a new sprout. Growth can be slow and the fruit of new life takes time, usually longer than we want it to. Yet, even when unseen, unbelieved, or unrecognized, the power and life of God are present and at work in the depths of our life, in the dark and hidden places. That’s the mystery of life.

“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.”