Lent 5 Passion Sunday

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Opening Prayer

Gracious Father,
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Jeremiah 31: 31-34 (NLT)

31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.

33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

John 12:20-33 (NLT)

20 Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration 21 paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honour anyone who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! 28 Father, bring glory to your name.”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” 29 When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.

30 Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate how he was going to die.

Homily

Over the past few weeks we have been thinking about some of the covenants God made with humankind. Covenant is a word which we don’t use often these days. When we do, it is usually in terms of legal documents. For example, if you buy a house, you will sign a deed of covenant which agrees your responsibilities as the buyer and what you can expect from those who are selling. So really a covenant is a bit like a contract – something which sets out both the rights and responsibilities of the people involved. And if we break a covenant or a contract, we can expect legal penalties – a stiff fine or worse. We can expect to be in quite a bit of trouble!

In our Old Testament reading today, we see God talking about covenants again. But the desire of God seems to move beyond the external, legal covenants of the past. The people only broke them anyway, building up unpaid fine after unpaid fine in their divine ledger. God instead dreams of the day when the relationship between us will move from the externals of duty and observance to the heart – to a relationship of love. One of the ways the prophets used to describe God’s hopes for God’s relationships with humankind was to compare it to a human marriage. Now marriage has legal standing – it is a contract made between two people and there are benefits and responsibilities to this arrangement. But a true marriage goes beyond these legal arrangements and is all about the heart. In any relationship of love, you don’t draw up a contract for the daily stuff.

Or maybe you do? One of the favourite programmes in our house is the comedy “Big Bang Theory”. In this programme a nerdy but brilliant physicist called Sheldon makes his long-suffering friend and roommate sign an agreement which covers everything from when he can use the toilet to the fact this roommate has to drive Sheldon to his dental appointments. The agreement becomes a running gag over the many series of the show because it is absurd. When we care about someone, we don’t need to contract for every detail. If we love someone, we want what is best for them and will act accordingly, and actually the lack of contract allows for flexibility as our lives and circumstances change. However that lack of contract also makes us vulnerable – what if the other person doesn’t fulfil our expectations of them? The consequences could be inconvenient at best or deeply hurtful at worst. Aside from the laughs, one of the things Sheldon’s ridiculous roommate agreement demonstrates is that it is impossible to contract for true relationship. Sometimes we just need to take the risk.

One of the things that makes a relationship of love so risky is the potential of separation and loss. This is something that has been brought into sharp focus for many of us in this past year. For all of us there has been the pain of being separated from friends and family members we love. As many of you know, I am very close to my Mum, Dad and sister – despite being 300 miles apart, in normal times we are always popping up and down the M6, catching up with each other. In the past year, I have seen them once, and Liam hasn’t seen his family at all. This has been painful, but we are fortunate compared to many. 126, 000 people have died of covid in the UK in the past year, almost 300 of them in our borough. That is a lot of love and grief to deal with. Recognising that we all have our losses and our griefs after a year of pandemic, the Church of England is supporting the National Day of Reflection on Tuesday – a year to the day since the first covid 19 death in our country. It is designed to show those who are grieving that they are not alone and to provide a way for us to reflect and remember together the difficult year just past. We can join in with this in a number of different ways: you can keep a minute’s silence at noon, send a card to a friend who is grieving or lonely, tie a yellow ribbon to our church gates as a sign of prayer for those who have died and all who loved them, watch a short service of remembering from St Paul’s at 7pm on Tuesday or light a candle in your window at 8pm. It is an opportunity to show all those who have taken the risk of love, and found themselves hurting and grieving, that we are with them.

Love is a risk and this is a risk God is prepared to take. Today is the beginning of Passiontide – the fortnight before Easter when we remember Jesus’ ever more urgent journey towards the cross. In our Gospel, we see Jesus seeing more clearly than ever what the cost of love will be, but refusing to turn back, refusing to ask his Father to find another way. He knows that the cross is the only way that the demands of love and justice can be fulfilled, and without it we can never have the free and loving relationship with God that God desires and is the greatest possible experiences of humanity. Jesus is afraid of suffering and death – he knows just how much it hurts – but God’s love is stronger than death. God’s love is stronger than death in the determination Jesus shows in walking the path before him. God’s love is stronger than death in the glorious resurrection we will proclaim in a few weeks time. God’s love is stronger than death in the hope we now have for all we have loved but see no longer.

So this Lent, my final plea is for us to accept God’s invitation and move beyond a contract to a relationship of the heart. It is too easy to fall back into a sort of bargaining relationship with God. I’ll say my prayers, go to church when I can and support some good charities if God you do x, y and z? When I mess up, I’ll do some good things to balance and beat myself up a bit, and then we’ll be quits, yes? These sorts of contracts make God’s love seem a bit safer, a bit more predictable and more manageable. But they are a poor reflection of what God wants to share. God invites us beyond those sorts of contracts to a relationship of love, and was prepared to go to the cross to make it possible. So, this Lent, God says “Let me love you?” Love is a risky thing, but I urge you to say yes.

Prayers

We pray that Christ may be seen in the life of the Church.
Jesus, Lord of the Church,
in your mercy, hear us.

You have called us into the family of those who are
the children of God.
May our love for our brothers and sisters
be strengthened by your grace.
Jesus, Lord of the Church,
in your mercy, hear us.

You have called us to be a temple
where the Holy Spirit can dwell.
Give us clean hands and pure hearts,
so that our lives will reflect your holiness.
Jesus, Lord of the Church,
in your mercy, hear us.

You have called us to be a light to the world,
so that those in darkness come to you.
May our lives shine
as a witness to the saving grace you have given for all.
Jesus, Lord of the Church,
in your mercy, hear us.

You have called us to be members of your body,
so that when one suffers, all suffer together.
We ask for your comfort and healing power
to bring hope to those in distress.
Jesus, Lord of the Church,
in your mercy, hear us.

You have called us to be the Bride,
where you, Lord, are the Bridegroom.
Prepare us for the wedding feast,
where we will be united with you for ever.
Jesus, Lord of the Church,
hear our prayer,
and make us one in heart and mind
to serve you with joy for ever.
Amen.

Closing Worship

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