Readings, prayers and reflections are available below.
LENT V SUNDAY 21 MARCH 2021
Today's sermon is available as an audio recording here. Press play to start. [RECORDING IN PROCESS, TO FOLLOW SOON]
Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross we mat triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33.
Let us pray that Christ shall be glorified in the Church and in the world.
Guide and bless the Church, that she may find her life in Christ's death and resurrection.
By the power of the Cross may all divisions in our communities be mended and all hurts healed.
Have mercy on all who suffer in body, mind or spirit. We pray especially for Mary Maxwell.
We pray for those who have died to this world. May they grow into the life of heaven where joy is endless. We pray for those recently dead, for Andrew Rolle and Paul Evans.
Lent 5, 2021
St John’s Gospel is a bit like a magic banquet. Whenever we’re hungry, we’ll go there and find food waiting for us – food that will keep us going throughout our lives. But it’s very rich food, and that means that we must eat it in small quantities, eat it slowly, and chew it thoroughly.
But suppose we’ve developed a taste for the food, and we’re watching people eating it for the first time. Some of them will say, “Gosh! This is a shock to the taste buds, but I want to have more of it.” Others will say, “I don’t want this foreign muck. Give me what I know.”
For St John, that’s the perfect picture of people who are hearing Jesus speaking and teaching. He offers them a different diet, very nourishing, but requiring some adjustment before they can start to appreciate it. The food is indeed rich, and the menu is extraordinarily varied and plentiful. Think about the number of courses on offer in our reading from St John today.
For a starter, then there’s that moment when Jesus, predicting his death, prays that his heavenly Father will be revealed by it – “Father, glorify your name.” The result is a voice from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
Now, I think we can assume that a voice coming from the sky was no more common in John’s time than it is in ours, but it’s an imaginative way of showing the unique bond between Jesus and his heavenly Father. Then John shows us people reacting to this, just like the ones trying the meal for the first time. The first response is like the professional secularists of our time who say, “it was just thunder.” They’re people at the table who say, “I only eat dry toast.” The second response is more New Age; “perhaps it was an angel speaking,” like saying, “I want the lightest possible soufflé.”
But now comes the main course, where some dishes must have sharper ingredients, even bitter herbs, which make our eyes smart, though they remain good for us. Jesus signifies that by speaking of his coming death.
This is where dinner table conversation becomes tricky, because our society, which values material things above everything else, tries to remove death from the menu. Jesus makes it a main feature of the meal by saying that death is not only inevitable, but can be a way to a greater life.
“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.” (And we want the fruit course.)
What Jesus is saying is that if we’re prepared to follow him in surrendering ourselves to what God asks of us, then we’ll find that even if the way is costly, it will be a way of liberation and growth, a way to eternal life with God. Also, if we accept that path, it will be a means by which God can work through us to reach out to those around us. We’re meant to see that hungry people have something more than the crumbs falling from our table.
This really is radical, because unlike our indigestion culture, which says, “stuff yourself with as much as you can get”, Jesus tells us that the way toward God, the way toward life and freedom, consists in being prepared, when necessary, to eat what may not seem immediately pleasing. To make that clear, Jesus uses an extreme form of speech, and says that “those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
No, we’re not meant literally to hate our lives any more than we should hate our food – that would be ingratitude for the gift of them - but, says Jesus, our driving purpose must not be self-fulfilment at whatever cost to others. Sometimes the way to life and the way to serving others may at first sight look like a way of loss and sacrifice.
A willingness to eat bitter herbs is the path taken by Jesus himself, all the way to the Cross, and he’s our example in deed as well as in word. But by doing this, he shows us that what might seem utterly destructive turns out to be quite the opposite. What was bitter can become sweet.
Notice those words of Jesus, “now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” He’s saying that while secular society might look at his path and say it’s complete madness, the truth is that by going to the Cross he’s showing the values of the world to be hollow. The world judges Jesus and crucifies him. On the Cross, he judges the standards of the world. The Cross of shame becomes the place of triumph, which is why Jesus can say “I, when I am lifted up [on the Cross] will draw all people to myself.”
The food Jesus offers us is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, indeed, he promises to meet us through food in Holy Communion. But, to go back to our everyday menu, it emerges that what we thought was the main course is not. That is still more to come. The Day of Resurrection, Easter Day, invites us to an eternal banquet where we can always eat more, and where every course will be better than the one before it.