Sunday, March 10, 2024

Sunday 17 March 2024 - Lent 5

Theme: Suffering (Passion) of Jesus / New Covenant / Death and Glory

Sentence: 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. (John 12:24)

Collect: P25:2

Almighty and eternal God,
you have made of one blood all the nations of the earth
and will that they live together
in peace and harmony;
so order the course of this world
that all peoples may be brought together
under Christ's most gentle rule;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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


The 'passion' in Passion Sunday is not the 'passion' of a phrase such as 'I have a passion for growing the church'. That passion equals enthusiastic commitment. 'Passion' in Passion Sunday refers to the suffering of Jesus. In Johannine language from our gospel reading, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified [through suffering]"(v. 23).

Jeremiah 31:31-34

In one way the Bible is the Story of Several Covenants. Jeremiah, prophesying around 600 years before Christ, relays the words of the Lord. The covenant made with Moses has been broken through the disobedience of Israel (marked by her division into two kingdoms, by the exile of the northern kingdom in 721 BC and of the southern kingdom in 597 BC). In fact there is now no nation to whom that covenant of the past now applies. A new covenant is coming.

With this new covenant comes a new power to obey the covenant: 'I will write it on their hearts' (33).

This new covenant has but one blessing promised: a relationship between God and God's people. There is no reference to a promised land or to material blessings in terms of prosperity. The way is being paved for the kingdom of God which Jesus will proclaim, a kingdom not confined to Palestine, a kingdom in which God rules people and a kingdom in which the presence of God is in the lives of people and not in buildings such as a temple.

Psalm 51:1-12

Initially this psalm is a confession of sin (ascribed in the superscription to David, confessing after his adultery with Bathsheba). But when we ask why we are reciting it on this day, that is, which other reading does this psalm connect to, we make our way to verse 9 where David asks God to 

'Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.'

With this verse we are right in the heart of Jeremiah's prophecy (see above)!

Hebrews 5:5-10

On Passion Sunday, as we reflect on Jesus embracing the fact that he will suffer and die, this reading partly connects with the gospel reading through talk of the glory of Christ (5) and partly through commenting on Jesus' "reverent submission" to the path that led to suffering and death (7-10).

The writer to the Hebrews makes the case that Jesus as "Son"  became perfect - "having been made perfect" (9) - in all ways (despite moral perfection, there was one thing yet to also become perfect). 

Only by sharing in our humanity could the Son "learn obedience through what he suffered" (8).

As the perfect (or, we might say, perfectly perfect and completely perfected) Son, Jesus could become 

"the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (9).

John 12:20-33

As the "hour" (23) of Jesus' death draws closer, John recounts to us an episode which chronologically occurs after the "Palm Sunday" entry to Jerusalem (see 12:12-15). We read this passage a week before Palm Sunday because it captures the mind of Jesus as it reflects on the suffering which shortly he will experience.

The first few verses, however, tell us of a moving encounter between Philip and "some Greeks" (20). 

We can only speculate at possible prior connections, noting that "Philip" is a Greek name, but it would be reasonable to surmise that "Greeks" here means "Greek-speaking Jews". These Greeks seek what all disciple love to seek, an encounter with Jesus: 

"Sir, we wish to see Jesus." (21)

Frustratingly for us as readers, we do not get to read about them actually seeing Jesus. Philip tells Andrew and together they go to tell Jesus (22) but we are not told that the Greek-speaking enquirers saw Jesus in person. Instead, Jesus takes the occasion to speak about what is about to happen to him (23-33).

What Jesus says here is a mixture of Johannine themes (hour, glory, servant/Jesus/Father, judgment, ruler of this world, lifted up) and Synoptic Gospels' paradox (verse 25).

Three matters stand out:

1. Jesus may be saying to the Greeks who wish to "see him",
- "What you see should not be me the person with some fame which you have heard of, but me the one whom God is drawing forward to embrace death for the sake of eternal life (25, 32)."
- "When I have been crucified I will 'draw all people to myself', not only Jews and Greeks gathered here for this festival (32)."

2. Jesus understands his death to be the key to glory (i.e. honouring and blessing the enhanced reputation of God, 23, 28), the necessary pathway to "much fruit" (24, 32) and the decisive step in judging the "ruler of this world" (31).

3. Jesus teaches that his followers are called to the same destiny as himself: his death (e.g. 23-24) will be imitated by his followers who must be willing to lose their life and to follow him as servants wherever he goes (25-26).

Could we say that Jesus raises this question for those who would like to meet him, 

"Do you really understand who I am, and if you understand the pathway to suffering and death on which I am on, do you still want to meet me? To truly meet me is to meet one who is going to call you to a similar pathway of suffering and death, is that what you actually want?" 

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