Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34 Hebrews 5:7-9 John 12:20-33
Happy springtime to all of you!
Have you ever thought what it would be like if Lent, Holy Week and Easter occurred in the fall instead of the spring? How different that would be, if it even could be. The liturgical and natural seasons as scheduled are such a perfect fit, with the same message, the message of today’s Gospel, the message of life flowing from death, of the seed giving up its way of life that fruit may emerge.
Today’s readings repeat multiple versions of the message of spring and of Easter. The message is the very core fact of creation:
• The inescapable law of creation is that the grain of wheat must die to produce life.
• The one who loses life, finds it, and God’s glory is revealed in the process and in the new life that emerges.
The Creator tells us through messengers:
• I will place this law within you, write it on your heart and in your flesh.
• From within you my Spirit will help you learn obedience through the many seasons and sufferings of life.
Our natural world, the world of winter and springtime, is balanced, unfolding in equal measure the seasons of dark and light, seed and harvest, year after year. In our liturgical world, in these final weeks of Lent, our rituals and Scriptures focus attention for much of the time on the dying of the grain of wheat, the suffering that teaches obedience, the death that prepares the way for God’s glory. The course of our human lives with one another — individually and as groups and society — can seem like the end of Lent, long passages of pain, suffering and death, relieved occasionally by brief days of glorious rebirth.
In the midst of difficult times of pain, loss and death, we echo Jesus’ words, “I am troubled now.” Let us pray that we are able and willing to finish the thought as he does: “Yet what should I say, God save me from this hour? But I came to this hour for a purpose: that God may be glorified.”
Each of us has that inner sense of purpose; it is the law written on our hearts. We grasp at least vaguely that the hurts, pains, suffering and even death in our personal lives is part of a larger flow, a trustworthy process; many of us have learned obedience to it and accept it as God’s purpose. Most of the time we are willing to cooperate for the sake of the life promised, the fruit that will emerge, the good God brings forth in God’s own good time. And for the sake of giving glory to the Creator.
But what of our lives together? Our life as the Loretto Community? Our civic and social life as citizens of town, state, nation? What about the pulsing web of life of our small home, Earth?
I think perhaps the inescapable law of creation applies to each of these communities of life, too. In this season of our Loretto Community life, we are painfully aware that our precious Loretto is in the process of dying. Are we even now a seed, destined to die for the sake of new life? Is something trying to sprout, to blossom and grow into fruit from our Loretto? Are we focused only on death or also on the glory of new life promised by the God to whom we have promised faithful obedience?
Our nation and its civic parts seem fatally trapped in discord, disaster and destruction; are these possibly the life-throes of birthing? Can something new and good and life-giving come from our national and even our global social turmoil? Are we at least willing that it be so? And what of Earth itself? Does the web of all earthly life follow the law that the lowly seed follows? Is Earth and the cosmos tumbling toward inevitable destruction? Or is Earth and the whole cosmos endowed by the Creator with resilience like the grain of wheat, just now beginning the process of life-giving death that will produce new fruit?
Not even a prophet could answer these questions, yet the simplest creature has an answer written in the heart: Life comes from death. The Creator places this truth in the seed, the Spirit teaches the seed to be willing. And our God-Creator glories in the obedient, trusting heart as it comes into full flower. We who are troubled now about how to use our power, responsibility, self-direction and personal control might relax during this season of death-into-life, trusting that the hand of the Creator guides us, the Spirit within teaches us, and the Jesus the Risen Christ leads the way from death into life.