Sunday, 22 March 2015

Lent Week 5 Sunday (Year B) - 22 March 2015

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

The text from Jeremiah which is today's first reading is very beautiful. It announces the arrival of a new law establishing a new covenant, a law that will be written not on tablets of stone but on human hearts. There will be no need for external teaching of the law, therefore, since everyone will know it by consulting their heart. Everyone will know God, and will know God's law, from within. Wonderful, very spiritual, living from within rather than from without.

The text of Jeremiah is quoted word for word in the Letter to the Hebrews, at 8:8-12, but this is not the passage from Hebrews that is chosen as the second reading today. Instead it is a passage from Hebrews 5 in which the suffering of the Son in the flesh is recalled, his obedience and reverence in relating to the Father, and the fact that once he was made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation.

So the work of writing the new law on human hearts is not as simple as it might seem if we just read the first reading from Jeremiah. That work is certainly not magical. Although it might seem that everyone would immediately approve and long for the kind of internal law which Jeremiah describes, the resistances which it encounters are substantial and radical. The work required, completely the work of love, is also an onerous task. The way in which it becomes possible for the Lord to 'forgive evil doing and to remember sin no more' (Jeremiah) is through the Son learning obedience from what he suffered and so becoming the source of salvation for all who learn to obey him (Hebrews 5).

We might be tempted to scratch our heads and wonder what kind of Christology requires the Son to learn obedience through suffering, what kind of understanding requires the Son to be made perfect. And the gospel reading helps us to think more deeply about this, from the words of Jesus himself in John's gospel. It is John's account of the Transfiguration, or at least the closest we come to a Transfiguration moment in John. The desire of the Gentiles to see Jesus sparks the response from him: 'the hour has come'.

We have been hearing about this hour and have been looking forward to it. Jesus is not simply looking forward to it because he knows more about what it will involve. 'My heart is troubled and what should I say? Father, save me from this hour?' Here is the Agony also, along with the Transfiguration. It is the moment in which the most paradoxical of Jesus' teachings must be put into practice by him: the grain of wheat must die if it is to bear much fruit. He is to hate his life in this world in order to keep it for eternal life.

We are invited to witness a conversation between the Father and the Son. 'Father, glorify your name'. 'I have glorified it and I will glorify it again'. The voice - is it thunder? is it an angel? - is for the sake of those standing by. It is therefore for our sake, the Father bearing witness that the Son, in entering on this strange path of obedience and suffering, is indeed the beloved Son to whom we ought to listen.

We might be tempted to try to figure out some strange calculus involving sin and suffering, judgement and loss, obedience and death. It is essential to remember that the key is love: this is what happens to love in the sinful world. The hour of Jesus all those things, sin, suffering, judgement, loss, obedience, death. But the key is love, the love uniting Father and Son, which is in this way revealed at the heart of our sinful world. And it is a love for us, a desire in the heart of God to heal the creation, to forgive and reconcile, to draw everyone to God.

Jesus is to be lifted up from the earth. It has many meanings: crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, glorification. Through the onerous work of Jesus' passion and death the Spirit of God is released at the heart of our world. Through the sign of the cross, the teaching that it is, the effective instrument that it is, the divine law of love is now written on human hearts. Through the sign of the cross the Spirit is given which teaches us everything. The grain of wheat has fallen into the earth and has died. But it is bearing much fruit in reverence and obedience, in holiness and love.

The only way to what is promised is the way of tears, tears of pain and suffering yes, but only and always tears that prove love, tears that cleanse the heart, tears that make the spirit strong and willing, tears that seal the new covenant by which we come to know and to love God.

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