Jeremiah 31:31-34 – I will make a new covenant. I will write the law on their hearts. They will all know me. I will remember their sins no more.
Psalm 51:1-12 – Create in me a clean heart O God.
Psalm 119:9-16 – Happy are those whose way is blameless…
Hebrews 5:5-10 – High priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He learned obedience through suffering.
John 12:20-33 – Gospel: Greeks. Sir we wish to see Jesus. Grain of wheat dies. Love life lose it. Save me from this hour? When I am lifted up, I will draw all people unto myself. The light is with you a little while longer. While you are in the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of the light.
Oil on canvas by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). The quintessential Jewish artist bridges the divide between Judaisam and Chrostianity in “The Exodus.” Exodus (1952-66) presents hundreds of shtetl Jews streaming forward, led by Moses carrying the Ten Commandments on the lower right. The scene is presided over by a towering yellow crucifixion, literally embracing the world fleeing slavery. The power of the Christian crucifixion emerges. Jesus, the crucified Jew is lifted up, and he draws all.
The New Covenant
Jeremiah: The new covenant. We went from the Noahic Covenant in Lent 1, to the Abrahamic Covenant in Lent 2, to the Mosaic Covenant Lent 3 and 4. After weeks of wading through various covenants, we come to Lent 5, the week before Passion/Palm Sunday, in which Jeremiah promises a brand new covenant. The problem with the Mosaic Covenant is the people could not keep it. Their infidelity is why Judah is in exile in Babylon.
After many harsh words, the prophet delivers a word of hope. One day a new covenant will come, not like the Mosaic Covenant. “I will write the law on their hearts.” All will know the Lord. Their sins will be remembered no more. The days are coming, says the Lord.
Christians see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by Pentecost. Jesus transforms the water of human religion into the wine of the spirit. The new law, the new covenant is written on our hearts, not on tablets of stone. In the Eucharistic Words of Institution we say remember Jesus’ words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people…”
Hebrews: Jesus is a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק, malchi zedek, “my king is righteousness”) is mentioned 12 times in the Bible, twice in Genesis 14, once in Psalm 110 and nine times in Hebrews. In Genesis 14, he is the King of Salem and a priest of “God most high” who blesses Abraham. In Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand and I will make your enemies your footstool… You are an eternal priest like Melchizedek.” In the cryptic theology of Hebrews, Jesus is identified as this priest. This is probably the author’s way of saying that Jesus is now the high priest. The Temple is no longer necessary, which is a good thing, because the Temple was destroyed decades before Hebrews was written. In some ways this is a similar message to the Cleansing of the Temple in John 2 (Lent 3B). The Gospel of John was also written decades after the Temple was destroyed.
The theology of the Letter to the Hebrews is complex. Jesus “learned obedience through suffering.” This is likely encouragement to a church that is under persecution. Christ’s followers are to learn obedience through suffering as Christ did. This message of suffering calls forth Luther’s theology of the cross from the Heidelberg Disputation. This is not a feel-good, self-help gospel. This is an engagement of the world through the lives of those who are suffering.
John: Greeks want to see Jesus. Some Greeks wish to see Jesus. Jesus has already said he has other sheep “not of this fold.” There has been much speculation about the meaning of this enigmatic statement of Jesus throughout history. My take: Jesus is telling his Jewish followers that there are Gentile followers out there. Clearly, the mission to the Gentiles is in full swing long before John writes his gospel.
For the first part of this gospel reading, Jesus has been saying his hour has not yet come. Remember the Wedding at Cana, “Woman, why are you involving me? … My hour has not yet come.” It’s not time yet. After the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, the decision to kill Jesus is made. Jesus ignores Philip and the Greeks. Now is the time: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Discursus: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. If it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate it will keep it. John 12:5-26 is a parallel to the Mark 8 text we had Lent 2. This passage appears in all four gospels. To die is to live. Jesus is now to fulfill this, to be glorified, to be lifted up, hearkening back to John 3, last week.
This passage touches upon something that we have seen several times during Lent, the mystery of the cross: The only way to find life is to lose it. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up.” “If any would follow me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The preacher must know his or her community well to find creative ways to convey this counterintuitive message with conviction. The power of God is most perfect in our weakness. Life grows when we let it go.
The story of the Greeks wanting to see Jesus gives an excellent opportunity to preach a message of witness. People may be turned off with the church, but they are still very, very interested in Jesus. If we show that we are more interested in people’s spiritual lives than the institutional survival of our religious clubs, we still have the ability to see the power of the gospel at work in the lives of seekers.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be lifted up. Jesus approaches his “hour” with open fear, and also resignation. “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.” (12:27) This could be a model of how we as Christians might approach our own death. It is natural to be worried, but as a people of the resurrection, confident of God’s saving grace, we know that our lives are in God’s hands.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) Though it is homiletical allegory, the preacher might ask the congregation to consider the ways in which Christ is being lifted up in their church and in the wider community. Is Christ lifted up in our speech? In our lives? Is the Son of Man being lifted up in our congregation’s presence in the community? When people talk about our congregation what do they say? What do they see? How are we known? How is Christ known through us? Is the suffering of Christ informing our lives and ministries?
The good news here is that when Christ is lifted up, people will be drawn to him. The good news is that hope is available, for free. It is unearned. Let go of your vain attempts to desperately clutch at life, and you will find it is right in front of you.
Learning to Pray Again
This will be the last entry in the Lenten series “Learning to Pray Again.” Those trying out new prayer practices are likely on the last few chapters, 36-40.
These chapters encourage you to pray for your pastor, and any who are part of your spiritual formation. They also introduce the tradition called “The Stations of the Cross.” These stations are listed, along with a Scripture passage and prayer for each. The point of the stations, though, is to meditate on the images. This is a right-brained prayer form. Meditating on artwork has long been a devotional practice. Different artistic renderings are available in Google images. Here is a photo of the stations we have in our office:
Stations of the cross in the office of the Gulf Coast Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Can eating and drinking be prayer? The central act of worship for most Christians is precisely this. We “commune” with God through the simple act of eating bread and drinking wine together.
The last two chapters return us to the point where we began: silence. Prayer is listening at least as much as talking. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist says. “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength…” Listening in prayer is recognizing that God is the principal actor in prayer. We are empty vessels, open to receive. God pours love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The various forms of prayer in this book are really tools to help us get to that place of silence, contemplation. They refocus our attention from ourselves, our tasks and our worries onto divine things. They help us set our minds on heavenly things, rather than earthly things.
Perhaps the way forward as you finish this series is to spend some time reading back through your prayer journal if you made one, or thinking back through the various forms of prayer you tried out these forty days. What worked for you? Write two or three forms of prayer that were helpful. Pick one and make it a daily prayer pattern for a while. Trust that God will show up, often in unexpected ways. And keep in mind the words of Mother Teresa and Meister Eckhardt:
If the only prayer you ever say… is “Thank you,” it will be enough.
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.