By Bishop David McGough
Fifth Sunday of Lent Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-30
‘See, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.”
As Holy Week approaches the prophet Jeremiah turns our thoughts to what God is doing in our lives. His words had been addressed originally to a dispirited people, a people who had wandered far from God’s ways, a people who feared that they had lost forever the appetite for God’s presence.
We are not strangers to this experience. We know what it is when sin distances us from God. We know what it is to abandon God, to be engulfed by an emptiness that can no longer reach out to him. Such were the people that Jeremiah addressed. Not only had they turned away from their God: now they feared that they had lost forever the heart to find him, to think and walk in his ways.
The responsorial psalm expresses the prayer of such a people: “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence nor deprive me of your spirit.” We can turn away from past sin, but only God can create for us a new heart. This was the new relationship, the new covenant that Jeremiah promised to God’s people. In the past they had experienced God’s love as a burden beyond their strength.
Now that love would be written on their hearts, its strength would come from within. In Christ we are the inheritors of that promise. Let our Lenten repentance become a confident prayer that God might renew hearts that have grown cold and weary.
It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that our hearts are renewed, that we enter into Jeremiah’s new covenant. The words of Jesus interpret this covenant for us. Paradoxically his death would be the hour of his glory, his death the beginning of new life. Jesus likened his death to the grain of wheat, which, falling to the ground in death, bears a rich harvest. In his humanity he feared death.
“Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour?” We also fear death, not only death but also the surrender that abandons our sinfulness so as to trust in the Father. Unlike Jesus our sinfulness is the selfish pursuit of our own glory. With him we are called to the death of vanity that allows the Father to be glorified in us. When our rejection of sin becomes a dying with Christ, we are, with him, raised up. “And when I am lifted up from the earth I shall draw all men to myself.” The Letter to the Hebrews describes the inner dynamic of Christ’s death and resurrection. Throughout his life on earth Jesus entrusted himself to the Father who had the power to save him out of death. He learnt to obey through suffering, and having been made perfect, became the source of salvation to all who obey him.
Obedience is not a popular virtue, and yet nothing less than the painful obedience of the wayward heart can unite us with Christ. “A pure heart create for me O God, put a steadfast spirit within me.”