“Come and See”
This last week’s Gospel lesson from John contains this phrase. While maybe it doesn’t jump out a first, there are some preachers and scholars out there who say that John is the Gospel of “Come and See.”
Other scholars have described it as “Word and Sign.”
Both are shorthand ways of saying that in John’s Gospel there is a repeating pattern of Jesus inviting people (the disciples, crowds, the religious authorities) to believe that he is the Messiah (Word) and when they hesitate, Jesus reveals who he is with a miracle or other divine act (Sign).
This dynamic plays out most clearly in the story of Lazarus. Jesus comes late to heal Lazarus and so Lazarus’ sister Mary meets Jesus on the road. When she points out that Jesus could have done something to prevent Lazarus’ death, Jesus reminds her that HE is the resurrection and the life (Word). But then when they get to the tomb, Mary objects to the stone being rolled away because there will be a smell (hesitation). But Jesus commands it anyway, and out walks Lazarus (Sign).
“Come and See” is the phrase that describes that invitation between the Word and the Sign, the invitation given just at the moment when we might be hesitating to believe that Jesus is who he says he is.
This pattern that John lifts up is a way to make the Gospel all the more compelling. John recognizes that most of the people who come after him won’t be able to watch Jesus in action the way the disciples and crowds did. But if we can see ourselves in their hesitation then maybe we will see that the only necessary part is the Word. We will hear the Good News and come to faith. John basically says this at the end of his Gospel.
While I think one of the challenges to faith in a world confident that science and technology will save us, is precisely the lack of “signs.” I also think that this dynamic of “Come and See” is a part of our lives and communities as Christians and as people of faith.
It is just that the signs might not be what we expect. We are probably not going to head over to the local cemetery and see someone hop out of a casket.
But in our communities of faith we DO see people who are healed and brought to new life all the time. People who are dead in loneliness or isolation, people who are broken by fractured family relationships, people who have suffered illness and disease, who, by being a part of church communities, find hope and life and peace.
We see people who hear the “Gospel Word” and are transformed into new creations. Who are so captured by the good news of Jesus’ love for them that it changes them to the core.
In the past few months, I have been watching one such transformation in my own family. My son, who is 8, has been attending church almost weekly his whole life (pandemic lockdowns not withstanding). And of course he was a baby, a toddler, or little kid for a lot of that time. This past fall, he has begun telling me that he likes my sermons, not every week, but once in a while. I have asked him what he likes, and he has been able to tell me very accurately what my sermon for a particular Sunday was about. And over the Christmas season, I had the opportunity to sit with him in the pew for a few services. Together we found the hymns in hymnbooks and I taught him how to follow the verses of hymns. We followed the litany and psalm together, learning which lines were for us to say. We talked about the different parts of worship, as in when to stand (when we sing, pray and hear the Gospel) and when we sit (all other times). He often will sing liturgical songs at home (“This is feast!”) or repeat other liturgical responses at home.
It only took him eight and a half years of attending church for it to take (especially since learning to read in the last two years). And, all of a sudden, worship and church and being together with all the people he knows at church (two churches!) have imparted to him that faith is important, that what God has to say to him and about his world and life is important, and that worshipping in community is important.
“Come and See” is an invitation to witness how the Word of God is doing incredible things in our world and in our lives. Maybe as we start this New Year together, 2023 will be a year to “Come and See.’