Sermon for the fifth Sunday of Lent – 21.03.21

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

During these forty days of Lent, we remember that Jesus spent forty days in the desert – fasting, praying, being tempted by the devil, and meditating on the word of God. If you know a bit about the story of Israel in the Old Testament you’ll might also remember that the Israelites were in the desert for forty years.

They wandered about and zig-zaged back and forth in the desert, lost their way and sometimes even longed to return to the predictability of slavery and oppression in Egypt.

In the desert the Israelites resisted listening to Moses and following God and it was also in the desert that Jesus listened intently to God in prayer and, using the word of God, where He countered the devil’s attacks on Him.

In the season of Lent many of us attempt to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in some way – through fasting, praying and meditating on the word of God. This is a tough season to stick with: forty days of intentional spiritual practices – of ‘giving up’ things we are attached to and of remembering that the shadow of the cross looms over us as we draw near to Holy week.

At the end of Lent, before the Easter egg hunt, before the trumpets and the lilies… before the empty tomb, and resurrection alleluias… is that cross. Jesus suffered an agonising death – the most painful and humiliating capital punishment that the Roman authorities could devise.

At the cross Jesus experienced a fearful and agonising moment of separation from God.

At the cross Jesus completely surrendered Himself.

The season of Lent is a time when we can learn to surrender ourselves to God. We surrender our will, our self-centeredness, our addiction to sin and our good intentions to live a holy life, because… we want to see Jesus.

In our gospel reading today John tells us that there were Greeks who went to the Temple during the Passover. Some of them – outsiders – went to Philip (one of Jesus’ disciples) and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.

Just as many people think that Matthew’s gospel was written to address the Jewish community, many also think that John had a specific audience and a specific agenda in mind when writing his gospel. John’s agenda was that God’s Kingdom embraces and includes all people; that Christ came for all the world; and that in Him salvation is offered freely to everyone.

All kinds of people were attracted to Jesus: outsiders, pagans – unacceptable people that no devout Jew would associate with, much less worship with.

Some of “those people” came to Philip, and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” There are lots of echoes of this visit throughout scripture.

In Jesus’ last days, when foreigners came seeking Him, we remember His early days, when foreigners came from the East also seeking Jesus.

Here in John’s gospel Jesus uses this experience of outsiders seeking Him, to again talk about His death and God’s plan to glorify Him.

Sometimes some of us struggle with John’s gospel, and with John’s insistence that Jesus’ suffering and death was part of God’ plan. It’s hard to believe that God intentionally sent Jesus to die – surely God came to us in love and to send someone to die sounds so cruel and doesn’t fit! That God let us resist and rebel against God’s love even to the point of silencing Jesus on the cross – does that sound like the actions of a God of Love?

But if we think about it, if we look beyond the horizon of Holy week, we realise that God’s love is more powerful than our ideas of cruelty and hate. God raises Jesus from the grave in the supreme act of love that triumphs over sin, death and hell. We must understand that on the cross Jesus took on the sin of humanity, freeing us from the chains that our own sin had forever wrapped around us. God’s agenda – throughout the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – is to draw us to God’s self in love – whatever the cost!

Consider this: Jesus had to die!

He had to die partly because He was fully human, as we are, and in His arrest, trial, abandonment, torture and death on a cross, He experienced the full bitter cup of our life’s sorrows in the extreme. Jesus was one of us, and He understands us. He is with us, as only one can be who has experienced the depths of human agony, pain and sorrow. On the cross Jesus surrendered His divinity (just as He had done at His birth) and fully became one of us. On the cross we see God laid bare – God made so vulnerable that we almost have to look away.

During Lent the point of our spiritual practices is to help us to surrender and die to the false love we have for things like ‘being successful’ and ‘looking good’ and having people admire us. We are striving to see real love – love that is deep and vulnerable. We are striving to see Jesus!

May God bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon.

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