Jeremiah 31:31-34 John 12:2-33
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
This is an exciting sentence in a marvelous passage, because it is the only time in the Old Testament where the term “new covenant” is used. The Hebrew people are a covenant people, in relationship with a God who has given them the Law through Moses. This Law, what we refer to as the Ten Commandments, is the foundation of their faith. It hasn’t worked. God has to find a new way to enter into relationship, and this new covenant “will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt,” because it turned out to be “a covenant that they broke.”
As anyone knows, who has ever had a child, or worked with a child, or even just been a child, which should cover all of us, saying “don’t”, “thou shalt not”, eventually produces the opposite reaction. Children have got to test what it is they are told to not do. This is what has happened between God and the children of Israel and Judah. The old way hasn’t worked. It’s time for something new.
For the very first time in the Hebrew Bible, God speaks through Jeremiah and announces there will be a new relationship between Him and His people. This time, God will not lay down a list of things that are forbidden, but instead, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” From an external list of “don’ts”, the Law becomes an internal thing, written on our heart.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.
So often, what we know is true, comes not from our minds, not from the facts, but from a feeling deep within our heart. Families, separated by war or calamity, often know in their hearts the fate of other family members. When we, or a loved one, are facing a difficult time or illness, often, before it actually happens, we know in our heart what the outcome will be. How many married people will tell you that when they met their spouse for the first time, they immediately knew in their heart that this was the right person for them?
Some people call this coincidence or intuition, but these words the world uses to gloss over the action of the Holy Spirit. We don’t like what we can’t explain. We are alarmed by what seems beyond our control – so when God speaks in our heart, our immediate human tendency is to define what has happened as something other than the action of God. When we do this, we miss seeing a lot of miracles. Don’t let anyone tell you that there are no miracles nowadays. There are plenty of miracles. We don’t see them because we’ve stopped looking for them. We need to start paying attention again.
God’s new covenant is written in the heart, and so it is in our hearts we recognize Him and discern His will. “’For they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ says the Lord.”
“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”
To us this means little. However, to Jesus it is the signal that shortly he must suffer and die. He already knows that He is to be, not simply the Messiah for the Jews, but the Savior of the World. So, enter “the world”, as it was defined in the Gospel writer’s time. Enter the Greeks. And when “Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” In John’s gospel the word “crucified” is seldom used. In it’s place, John uses the word “glorified”. Jesus recognizes that his Passion, His suffering, is about to begin, and announces that His crucifixion is at hand.
Then he says those very hard words, “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Whoever will follow Him, must be willing to suffer as He must suffer, to take up the cross as He will, and for Love, be willing even to die. This sounds so unreasonable, that we try to gloss over it in our minds, but make no mistake, Jesus means what He says. “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
For John, the Seat of Judgment, and the Throne of Glory is the cross of Jesus crucifixion. We haven’t lost our reverence for the cross. The altars in our churches, the embroidery on the altar hangings and vestments, the jewelry around our necks, the symbol of our faith, is the means, the painful, torturous, lingering, horrible means, by which our Lord was crucified. But when we look at the cross, and upon the crucified Christ, what do know in our hearts? Do we understand what it all means? We are meant to know that this wounded man, who stretches out His arms in love to embrace us, is our God. That it is only through His suffering that we are saved, and through our suffering that we become holy people.
Still, the bottom line is, we don’t like suffering. We ask what good can ever come from suffering, and, because it happened so long ago, pointing to the crucifixion and the salvation is begins often doesn’t help. Yet, even today there are examples of great good coming from tremendous suffering. We have all seen on TV or read in the newspapers the stories of families destroyed by the suffering and death of a child. Children these days die, not only from disease, but from accidents - injuries sustained in automobile accidents, injuries from sporting events, and in the inner city, fatal wounds that have resulted from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When children suffer, their families suffer, their caregivers, the doctors and nurses suffer. And when they die, hearts break and families are thrown into terrible grief and mourning. What good could ever come from such suffering? All across our country there are children alive today who owe their health and happiness to a child who died, whose family donated their organs to save the lives of other children. Now that’s something we can understand.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Of course, we still prefer not to suffer. When we are asked to endure sadness or misery, pain or sorrow, sickness, loneliness, or loss, we too cry to God for release. God always hears us, but this does not mean He will grant our request. “Although Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” The cup of pain did not pass from Jesus’ lips, nor must we expect it to pass from ours.
The world teaches us that suffering is a bad thing. Our culture is dedicated to comfort and pleasure. Everything from advertising to tele-evangelism, tells us that what we ought to expect, what we deserve as good, upright people, is a life of ease, security, and comfort. This, however, is not the Christian way. Ours is the Way of the Cross. “Very truly, I tell you, 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.”
We are now approaching Palm Sunday and the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow lies ahead. We, many of whom wear around our neck the symbol of Jesus suffering, need to understand that what isn’t pleasant is not necessarily bad, that the cross is the gift Jesus gives His friends. When we accept this, many of the unpleasant things in our lives appear different. We need to look at everything in a new way. We need to look with our heart.
Remember, God understands pain. In two weeks, He will make a new covenant with His people – with us – by allowing His Child to die, so that we may live.
Let us pray:
Blessed Savior, you hung upon the cross, stretching out your loving arms; Grant that we may look to you, and without fear or complaint enter into your embrace, share with you whatever suffering you may ask of us, and be saved. All this we ask for your love and mercy’s sake. Amen