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Sunday 21 March 2021: Lent 5

Reimagining generous hospitality

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

By Catherine Okoronkwo

Vicar of All Saints and St Barnabas, Swindon and Bishop’s Advisor on Racial Justice, Bristol Diocese.

Context: morning service or online worship

Aim: to explore what generous hospitality looks like, as we reimagine diversity and inclusion in a pandemic world

‘Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’ John 12:25 (NRSV)


The human experience is a cycle of loss and renewal. The Christian journey consists of repentance and restoration. Life is both gift and burden.

John 12:20-33 opens with this scene. Some Greeks approach Philip and say to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ I can only imagine they must have heard the amazing miracles Jesus had been performing. This was a man who turned water into wine, healed all manner of sickness, walked on water, and even raised Lazarus from the dead. Who would not want to have an encounter with this Jesus? When Philip and Andrew tell Jesus about the Greeks’ request he responds with: ‘Very truly, I tell you, 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.’ Jesus puts the spotlight on ‘dying’ and its spiritual significance.

In the pandemic landscape in which we find ourselves, death is all around us. Thousands globally have died from Covid-19. Hundreds of migrants have died making desperate and dangerous journeys crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Many black lives have died under the scourge of racism, its injustices, and inequalities. The natural world is dying at the hands of human behaviour.

Death is all around us but dying is more than the physical. Throughout our lives, we die many times over through a whole range of losses – the death of a loved one, the end of a dream, the breakdown in a relationship, the deterioration of a person’s health, and navigating the stages of life. Through all these losses we experience so many emotions: anger, regret, guilt, despair, unforgiveness and fear. But it is in the pit of darkness, it is in the depths of our dying, that we see Jesus.


Jesus calls us to be a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. Because it is in the dying that we have the potential to bear much fruit. It is in the total surrender and dying that new life can emerge. Rowan Williams reminds us, ‘God always has the capacity to do something fresh and different, to bring something new out of a situation’ (2007, 16).


Despite the brokenness of our world, there is hope that our churches and communities can be re-imagined through the lens of God’s generous love. Scripture reminds us again and again of the God-centred paradigm of sacrificial and radical hospitality which embraces the dead and the dying. God’s love has the power to heal, resurrect and enable human flourishing.

Jesus’ relationships underscored unconditional love and acceptance with those on the margins. Therefore, the truth of the gospel message is that God is found in vulnerability: in the grain of wheat. His presence is revealed, and people encounter Christ when we take up the invitation to create communities where all people know a God-centred acceptance and belonging in his kingdom-family.

So, the challenge for all of us is to open ourselves to the process of dying – as Jesus himself did on the journey to the cross – and invite God as the psalmist does in Psalm 51 to ‘create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.’

What grain of wheat in your life needs to die to enable you to reimagine generous hospitality to those in our society who are dying under the weight of injustice? Perhaps it is as we let go and see God in those dead places that we have the potential to bear much fruit for the kingdom.


Rowan Williams, (2007), Tokens of Trust (Norwich: Canterbury Press)

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