Jeremiah 311:31-34 Psalm 51:1-13 Hebrews 5:5-10 John 12:20-33
Next Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week – arguably, the most important week of our church year. During Holy Week we become a part of the Passion of Christ, meaning his arrest and trail and crucifixion. It begins with Jesus entering into Jerusalem with great fanfare. We will participate in celebrating his arrival, as well, by gathering outside the church next Sunday, blessing palms and then processing into church together. But, just after celebrating his arrival, we will listen to the passion narrative from the Gospel of Mark, reminding us just how quickly we can turn on someone we once viewed as our salvation – just as the people of Israel turned on Christ and called for his crucifixion.
Holy Week is about Jesus, but it is also about us. When we are honest with ourselves, we can see that we, too, are easily led astray by people in authority and by our own wants and desires. We often turn our backs on God and focus on ourselves, ignoring the needs of others. Jesus knows this will happen, and in today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Jesus saying, he is troubled, highlights his human nature. With all that Jesus did and said, it is easy to forgot that he was human and experienced fear and pain as we do. He did not want to do what he knew he needed to do to help us – but he was willing to do so because he valued life, our life, more than his own mortal life.
Prior to acknowledging he was anxious about what was to come, he said, “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 knows that his life and work will not end upon his death, and he knows it is necessary for him to die so that his life can produce the fruit it will produce. Jesus refers to being “lifted up from the earth,” in order to “draw all people” to him. Then we are told this was said “to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” Jesus is to be lifted up from the earth when he is placed on the cross, and it is his death that draws us to him.
Thus, the crucifix, the cross that shows Jesus being crucified, is in many churches – Catholic and otherwise. For many it is the focus of their faith, Christ’s death upon the cross and the belief that he died for our sins. Personally, I believe Jesus died because of our sins, not to pay our sin penalty. I do not believe that God requires someone to die because of what we did or may do. Instead, I believe Jesus knows that nothing short of his death on the cross will draw us to him.
Sacrificial living is what Jesus teaches us. We find true life when we live for God and others, rather than ourselves. And we still talk of this man Jesus today, because he placed God and others first. His resurrection may be what made people stop and examine his life more closely, but it is not the resurrection we need to focus on – it is his life and teachings, it is the example he set for us to follow. Many churches have an empty cross in their worship space, emphasizing the hope offered to us by Christ’s resurrection.
Many Episcopalians speak of us being an Easter People. We certainly do celebrate the risen Christ every time we acknowledge Christ is present in the people sitting or standing next to us. When we promised at a baptism to seek and serve Christ is all persons, we are acknowledging that God is not separate from creation, but a part of all creation – even those who vote for the wrong candidates.
We may be an Easter People, but today’s scripture and Holy Week remind us that just as the wheat does not produce fruit unless it dies and is buried, there is no resurrection without the pain and death of Jesus on Good Friday. The Apostle Paul talks about dying to sin and being resurrected with Jesus in our baptism – this is what Holy Week is about. It is about following the example of Jesus and, as we say in our Eucharisic Prayer, offering “our selves, our souls and bodies” to God.
In our reading from Jeremiah, the prophet says, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” What is this new covenant? Jeremiah tells us that the Lord says:
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. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
I love the thought of this. It suggests that God’s will and my will be the one in the same. We will not have to teach one another what God wants because we will know.
Unfortunately, our dying to sin and being resurrected with Christ in baptism does not prevent us from slipping back into old selfish habits. The Lord may have written God’s law in our hearts, but we still have free will and thus need to die to sin over and over again. Lent helps prepare us for the week to come, the week that teaches us who we are and whose we are. We are God’s creation and Jesus loves us enough to do whatever it takes to get our attention – even die on a cross.
Let us pray.
God and creator of us all, help us, we pray, to fully offer ourselves, our souls and bodies to you that what we do this week will be a testimony to your love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.