The Bible camp I went to as a child always had a verse printed in spruce branches across the front of the chapel: “WE WOULD” on the left side of the sanctuary, “SEE JESUS” on the right side. I recall gazing at these letters when the community gathered to worship. As I recall, sometimes one line of a W had fallen off the securing nail or perhaps a playful squirrel had been at work. But the message, perfectly formed or not, still made its mark.
“We would see Jesus” comes from the Gospel according to John. It comes from a story that has similarities to the call of the first disciples at the beginning of John’s Gospel. The first disciples begin as strangers to Jesus who found themselves following along after him on the road. He notices them and asks, “What are you looking for?” They say, “Where do you live?” Could we possibly come near? Much later in the gospel, on “Palm Sunday” it is ‘the Greeks’, the outsiders, that find themselves drawn to Jesus. These Greeks do not come directly to Jesus, but rather to the church (namely Philip) saying, “We would see Jesus.” Remarkably, their request is left open in the Gospel as the meeting of the Greek outsiders with Jesus is not narrated in John. “We would see Jesus,” is their yearning. Might we just get a glimpse of Jesus?
This summer, I was privileged to attend the 75th anniversary weekend of the camp that said in spruce branches, “We would see Jesus.” We gathered as faith communities do at anniversaries. We remembered the milestones: the founding of the camp, the growing years, the building of the retreat centre, the first full time director. But it was a little story from the preacher on Sunday morning that brought me back to the spruce branches.
The preacher said: “When I was a young boy, if you walked from the dining hall straight toward the lake, you would walk by an old cabin, just off the beach. It was a cabin made from the trees of the camp itself, carefully turned and set in place. My friends and I, he continued, walked down to the lake past that cabin often, partly because it was on the way, partly because we needed it to be on the way. Because, you see, most days, when we walked by that cabin an elderly woman would be out on the veranda of the log cabin and more often than not she would call out: “Boys, would you like some ‘peanuts butter’ sandwiches?” And then, he said, we would walk over to the veranda, and some days, “if you were especially lucky,” you would be invited in. If you did have time to come away for a moment, you would not find much in the way of luxury. You would find wooden floors with a bit of linoleum in one of the rooms, the wood stove in the corner, and a wooden table. You would sit at the table across from the woman, and have some ‘peanuts butter sandwiches’, and something to drink, and some days, something sweet. But, the preacher added, as much as this was a time for food, it was a time for listening and for being heard at the log cabin by the lake. It was, he said, not just a place for ‘peanuts butter sandwiches’; it was a place of healing for the girls and the boys who sat at her table.
“We would see Jesus” breathes through the little story doesn’t it? A glimpse of Jesus can be seen, can’t it, through the woman in the log cabin, armed not with great power or wealth, but with a little language, a loaf of bread, and some ‘peanuts butter’. I think, if the woman were still on this earth to tell her story, she would tell of how she also saw a glimpse of Jesus in the faces and the stories of the girls and boys that sat at her table and took the time to share their stories and to listen to some of hers.
What do you make of this little story? What does it say to you about your life as a follower of Jesus? About the life of your community of faith? What does it say about the particular gift God brings to the world through you and through your community of faith? What does it say about the deep yearning the world surely has for a glimpse of Jesus?