Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent – Year B

Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:20-33

What would it be like:
to have God’s law written on our hearts?
know the Lord to be our God and to be his people?
be so “in tune” with God that we would know beyond doubt that we are forgiven for all our failures and loved by him completely and unconditionally?
What would that be like? Is this the pearl beyond price – something for which we would willingly give up everything?

Jeremiah’s words suggest that this is the way of living that God wants both for himself and for us.

John’s words suggest that God is willing to give up everything to live with us in that sort of relationship.

Jeremiah gives a picture of God who longs only to forgive his faithless people and to start their relationship afresh.

But the faithless people of Israel continue to break their promises. They go on cheating God by worshipping false gods and they twist and break God’s laws to suit their own needs and wishes. God’s longing never goes away but his people don’t or won’t listen and understand.

So, one day, a child is born; a child who has already been named as Emmanuel, God with us. The child grows up, works for a living and waits for his time to come.

And when it does come, marked by baptism and the voice of God affirming him as his beloved Son, he begins his public ministry.

And now we can see what it would be like:
to live with God’s law within us, written on our hearts;
know God personally, and be so “in tune” with God that we would know ourselves loved and affirmed.
We can see what it would be like because that is how Jesus lives. His relationship with God, his heavenly Father, is so close and intimate that he seems to know by instinct what God’s will for him is; he has a personal authority and power that astound those who encounter him.

Jesus is apparently driven with a spiritual energy to live according to the word of God written on his heart.

We see that priceless pearl of eternal life in God’s kingdom; we see Jesus expressing God’s love, compassion and mercy in his healing and teaching; we see him expressing God’s anger against self-righteousness and hypocrisy; and today we hear Jesus proclaiming that the hour has come for the Son of Man and for God’s name to be glorified.

And suddenly we also see the true and terrible cost of that priceless pearl. We see the cost of knowing God, of having his word written on to our hearts. We see the true and terrible cost that God is prepared to meet in order to show us the priceless pearl of forgiveness and eternal life.

We see the paradox that in order to live, we have to die.

The glory Jesus speaks of is a gruesome ordeal finished by the shameful death of a common criminal.

How can that be glory or triumph?
How can a powerless victim of injustice himself pass judgement on his tormentors?

But that’s exactly what Jesus does throughout the torture, the mocking, the pain and humiliation. He does it by staying true and loyal to God’s word of love written on his heart.

Failure for Jesus would have meant giving in to the human values of this world:
cursing his enemies,
encouraging his followers to protect him with violence,
protesting his innocence,
thinking only of himself and fighting to be freed.
The triumph and glory of the cross shine out in the love that stays true to itself to the bitter end;
in the courage and conviction of a man who knows God as a loving Father and who is prepared to pay the cost of that love.
For us, who stand on the other side of the cross, they shine out in the new resurrection life that could only be born when the life of this world was given up in the name of the God who is Love.

Today marks the beginning of Passiontide when we move ever closer to the cross whose shadow reaches out to meet us.

Once again we face a choice.

Next Sunday we can come to our service to sing hosanna to the king of kings.
We can then come along on Easter day and sing joyful Alleluias.

But if we do that we’ll miss the whole point of Passiontide.

Emmanuel, God with us in Jesus, came to live alongside us, to share in all the experiences of human life no matter how difficult, how painful or humiliating, no matter how frightening or overwhelming. He came to live alongside us and show us
how we can meet those experiences when God’s word is written on our hearts.

The events of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday might be difficult, challenging and painful but in a sense that’s exactly why we need to experience them with Jesus so that his experiences and responses can be written on to our hearts, making us one with him and leading us to grow in the knowledge and love of God.

If we enter into Passiontide with the expectation that something extraordinary will happen then we can be sure that it will.

The Lord will put his law within us and write it on our hearts.
The Lord will be our God and we will be his people
and our hearts will know God in Christ Jesus
whose love and faithfulness know no limits.