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Lent 5 (B)
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Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1. Jeremiah 31, 31-34

  • I hear the prophet speaking about the renewal of the covenant with God.  I think it is the most tender passage in all the prophets.  Four times he repeats the source and authority behind his message – Says the Lord – to indicate a solemn declaration coming directly from God.  Let me speak them with equal solemnity.
  • A new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will be deeper and more permanent than the one that came before: not like the covenant I made with their fathers.  I shall retell the outcome of that initial relation in a kind of divine regret, something like ‘you forced my hand in those days.’
  • I will place my law within them.  The prophet seems to be invoking the spirit rather than the letter of the law, which is something we should be cultivating in the church.  And because it is within them, no longer will they have need to teach.  He means that they will pass it on like a genetic code to future generations.  What a marvelous image!
  • The prophet spoke these words as the people were heading into exile, uprooted and defeated.  Though they had forgotten God, God had not forgotten them.  I will be their God and they shall be my people.  God is not restricted to the Holy Land; wherever the people go God will go before them.  Let my voice do justice to these uplifting words.
  • Climax: I will write my law upon their hearts. 
  • Message for our assembly: Our own faith today is built upon this covenant, thanks to Jesus who brought it to fulfillment.
  • I will challenge myself: To read in a spirit of gratitude for the renewed invitation of God to us, remembering the psalm verse: Happy the nation whose God is the Lord.

 

2. Hebrews 5, 7-9

  • The writer presents a moving portrait of Christ our high priest.  We will hear it again in two weeks when we commemorate the passion and death of Jesus.
  • We long to pray in union with Christ but we are ashamed by our feelings.  Listen to the prayers and supplications of Jesus, who with loud cries and tears prayed to be saved from death.  Jesus is one with us; can we be one with him?
  • I hear two words describing Christ before God, reverence and obedience. 
  • Climax: What it means to us.  Jesus is the source of eternal salvation.  According to the author, with his excruciating prayer and his life of obedience to God, Jesus has become our way to God.
  • The message for our assembly: Now it is our turn.  If we obey him we will discover the source of eternal salvation.  Is there a better summation of what we are about during Lent than this?
  • I will challenge myself: To take my time in this short passage, so that my listeners can come closer to the one who came close to us.

 

Gospel. John 12, 20-33

  • I hear a series of sayings attributed to Jesus.  Each one seems able to hold its own in isolation.  They belong together because they speak of the relation of Jesus with his followers.
  • The Greeks would like to see Jesus.  In other words, the world awaits him now.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  The evangelist meant that God would reveal him as the Son especially at his death.  Was a remote heavenly glorification – like that of Hercules – about to occur?  On the contrary, we are intimate participants insofar as we follow Jesus.  Doesn’t this sound like the message I just heard in Hebrews, though expressed in a different way?
  • Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies… It is a saying we have heard over and over at this time of year.  I emphasize the positive side: If it dies it produces much fruit.  I will avoid isolating this saying by the way I read the other verses, and by so doing I will keep it in its rich context of relationships.  Jesus is on the way to his death and he invites us to follow the same path to fruitfulness.  In my mouth the advice is an invitation rather than a ‘hard saying.’
  • Then I hear a moment of agony and supplication.  Father, save me from this hour.  The Greek and Latin tradition has treated this as a declaration (as it is in the Synoptics), and not as a hypothetical question as presented in the Lectionary.  I will say it as a tentative declaration, more whispered than spoken, certainly not as the final word of the prayer. 
  • For the prayer ends with a stirring call to obedience, in the words of the great prayer he gave us: Father, glorify your name! 
  • What reply do we hear?  The voice of God?  I have glorified it and will glorify it again.  An angel?  Ah, for most folks it’s all just a loud clap of thunder.  Well, let me split the difference and make God speak in thunderous voice.
  • When I am lifted up from the earth – I will draw everyone to myself.  This version in the new Lectionary is definitely an improvement.  I use a pause, because I am intend to lift the timbre of my voice up to the pause, and lower it so slightly after that.  The kind of death he would die, yes, which?  Crucifixion, the one everyone witnessed?  Or a death of exaltation by God, on which we base our faith in the church?  I remember the notice in this Gospel that ‘the flesh profiteth nothing,’ and that helps me work it out for the assembly. 
  • Climax: Now is the time for judgment on this world.  It reads like Shakespeare, doesn’t it?  Let me make it sound that way.  Time stood still when Jesus died, in the most important sense.  The judgment still holds and will always hold.  I want my now to ring as if it sounds through all the centuries until our day.
  • Message for our assembly: Jesus is talking to us when he says: Those who hate their lives in this world, those who serve me, and those who will behold him lifted from the earth.  Will we join him where he is?
  • I will challenge myself: To not let anyone in my hearing make it through this Lent without deciding, in their heart where God has planted the law, for Jesus.

Word to Eucharist: The hard sayings just got harder and echo through the assembly.  To borrow from Bonhoeffer, this is not a "cheap" but a costly communion that we celebrate.  Let us remind ourselves of this.

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