Saturday, 8 April 2017

Lent Week 5 Saturday

Readings: Ezekiel 37:21-28; Psalm: Jeremiah 31:10-13; John 11:45-56

The reading from Ezekiel summarises the ways in which the people of Israel knew that the Lord was still with them, that he was still on their side. He had given them a land and now, after the exile, they were to be restored to it. He had taken them from among the nations to make them one people and now he would do this again. He had given them laws and statutes that would guarantee their fidelity to the covenant. He would give them a leader, a new David who would be both prince and shepherd. He would dwell with them in a sanctuary, in a new temple, in which His glory would once again be present.

These gifts - the land, being a nation, laws and statutes, a leader, a sanctuary - made real the covenant whereby Israel was God's people and the Lord was Israel's God. It was in these gifts that the shared life of the covenant was to be seen.

The Jewish leaders feared that Jesus was a threat to all this. They feared that the Romans would come and take away their land and destroy their nation. They feared another fall of Jerusalem, another loss of everything, a new exile. And for reasons that remain unclear they feared that the teaching of Jesus would provoke it. 'Better', prophesied the high priest Caiaphas, 'that one man die for the people rather than the whole nation be lost'.

Paradoxically, Caiaphas gave believers in Jesus one of the most powerful statements of the meaning of his death: he died for the nation and to gather into one the scattered children of God. He died for all, in other words. Paradoxically also, it was precisely through this death that the promises treasured by Ezekiel and the other prophets were brought to fulfillment.

On one level it might seem that the fears of Caiaphas and others were justified: soon after the Temple was destroyed, the land was lost, and the nation was scattered. But before that, and separate from it, a new land was established which was no longer geographical but spiritual (for a worship of God in spirit and in truth). A new sanctuary was set up which was no longer a building but the body of Jesus from which saving waters flowed. A new nation was born which is the Church, made up of Jews (the first nation) and the Gentiles (the scattered children of God). A new leader rose up who is both prince and shepherd. The everlasting covenant of peace was sealed in his blood. A new law was given which did not dissolve the old one but which brought it to perfection, its demands (the great commandment) being written directly on the human heart.

'I will be their God and they will be my people'. This communion, this shared life, was always the goal of the covenant. Through many vicissitudes, through trials and errors, through triumphs and losses, through times of fidelity and times of apostasy - the desire persisted for a definitive sealing of this covenant.

'Will he come to the Passover feast?' is the question with which today's gospel reading ends. Will the Lamb be present for the feast? How could they have known that this ancient ritual, and the covenant it remembered, were to be fulfilled and transformed beyond anybody's imagination? So that now, in these coming days, two thousand years later, millions of people all over the world will read about the land and the temple, about the law and the nation, about the sacrifices and the promises, and they will see these things as promised also to them.

The promise remains valid and is now true at all times for all men and women: 'I will turn their mourning into joy, I will console and gladden them after their sorrows'.

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