Lectionary Readings:

Jeremiah 31:  31 – 34
Psalm 51:  1 – 12
Hebrews 5: 5 – 10
John 12:  20 – 33

We are now getting to the ‘sharp point’ of Lent.  It is important that we do not arrive at Easter Sunday without experiencing the passion of Jesus.  There is only one more Sunday (Palm Sunday) before Holy Week begins and how we use this Sunday in worship needs to be carefully planned.  Some churches name, this 5th Sunday in Lent, as Passion Sunday, which gives us the opportunity to concentrate on the necessity of the Cross for Jesus and our calling to be cross-bearers.  The link between the OT and Gospel reading is the New Covenant that God is making.  This supersedes the covenants of the past and is ratified in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  The Hebrew reading is difficult. Even the writer admits in verse.16 that it is “hard to explain”.  He doesn’t get many Brownie points for going on to say that this is because we are “dull of understanding”. If we can manage to pronounce the name of the ancient High Priest, there will still be a lot of explaining to do.  An overall theme for this Sunday might be “New Life for Old” or “Dying to Live”.

Jeremiah 31:

Jeremiah is often called ‘The Reluctant Prophet’.  Perhaps we might also be if we had to say some of the things that he felt compelled to say.  The ‘Doom and Gloom’ of much that Jeremiah had to say is lifted in chapters 30 – 33.  These chapters, sometimes given the title,”Book of Consolation”,  have a different tone.  He is speaking to a people who have been long in exile and have almost given up all hope.  Here Jeremiah offers them a future to look forward to.  The opening verse of Chapter 30 says, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel”.  This hope is to be in the form of a new covenant which will be based on ‘heart knowledge” rather than on external obedience.  This new covenant will not be just a rainbow in the sky, be inscribed on tablets of stone or given through others, but it will be  in God’s handwriting on every persons heart.  “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts;  and I will be their God and they shall be my people.

“Help us, O Lord, to learn
The truth your word imparts,
To study that your laws may be
Inscribed upon our hearts.”

“At the Heart of the Matter”:

“May your shadow fall across me,
Liberate this heart of mine.
May I see the face of glory
And know the power of love divine.
Holy Jesus, may your Spirit
Fill my heart, my soul, my life”.

A child is reprimanded and told to sit down.  They do so unwillingly, knowing that they haves no alternative.  They pout, and say “I may be sitting down on the outside,but inside I am still standing up”.  This is not whole-hearted  obedience only compliance.   Jeremiah spoke to a people who had over and over again failed to fulfil their part of the covenant God had made with them, and at best had only given it lip-service.  Now God invites them to listen to him and know him in their hearts. 

 Psalm 51:

 This is David’s prayer for forgiveness and in today’s worship will serve well as the prayer of Confession.  The Psalmist words connect with our own human experience and offer a way forward even when it appears at first sight that there is no way.  Through confession the hope of renewal is born.

 John 12:

 When I read the opening verses of this passage, I did begin to think that we were going to get a story or a report of a particular incident to hang John’s theology on.  We are rather short of story based text in this gospel, though admittedly we do have some wonderful word pictures. 

The reported arrival of some ‘Greeks’ turns out to be a non-event.  We hear of their request to Andrew to see Jesus. Andrew consults with Phillip and together they go to inform Jesus. We are not told if the meeting ever took place.  John may have connected this visit of the Greeks with the words of the Pharisees in v. 19, “Look!, the whole world has gone after him.”  Could it be that Jesus did in fact have a conversation with them.  (v 23 “Jesus said to them“.   The ‘them‘ might include the Greeks, Phillip and Andrew and other people in the crowd. 

 In John’s gospel there is no reference to Jesus’ Transfiguration and no record of his Gethsemane experience.  Perhaps both of these moments might be hinted at in v. 27 and 28.  In these two verses there is the anguish of Jesus, “Now is my soul troubled.  Father save me from this hour”, followed by a voice of reassurance  from heaven.  In these two verses is there  an echo from Jesus’ Baptism and also from the Mount of Transfiguration, where in both instances Heaven touched Earth.

(“Unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain:  but if it dies, it bears much fruit”)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Dying to Live is not so much a contradiction as it might at first seem.

John R


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