Worship preview for 3/18
The focus of the first portion of the Lenten season is on God's mercy toward us and our response to it. Thus we are pointed to our frequent failures and need for pardon. With the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the focus shifts to God's grace in Christ, and his willing suffering to cover our sins. The older liturgies refer to this final two week portion of Lent as ‘Passiontide.’
The Hymn of the Day is “My Song Is Love Unknown” (ELH 303). The opening lines of stanza 1 reveal how God’s love does not find those who are already lovely and lovable, but God’s love makes us lovely.
My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
This is the love revealed in the Old Testament reading, a love that forgives iniquity, a love that remembers sin no more.
The Gospel: John 12:20-33
When some Greeks wished to see Jesus, he answered with an announcement of his coming Passion (‘The Passion’ is the suffering of Jesus leading up to and including his crucifixion). Jesus’ glory begins with his suffering because his real glory is in fulfilling the will of the Father. What is the result of his Passion? That he can finally leave earth and be rid of us and all our foolishness? No, not at all! It is rather that by his cross he can draw all people to himself. That is his glory.
For two thousand years Christians have used wheat as a symbol of the resurrection because of what Jesus said in verse 24. “Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In order to make lots of new believers, Jesus had to die on the cross and be buried in the ground. But then he rose to life again and grew into a stalk of wheat and produced lots of believers, which are the kernels in the head of grain. We are those kernels of wheat and death and resurrection is true for us also. The symbol of wheat reminds us death is not the end of our lives, but the beginning of life eternal.
The Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Jeremiah’s repeated condemnations of Israel’s unfaithfulness to their covenant God are followed in this reading by one of the most remarkable prophesies in Scripture. The marriage-like relationship established by the Lord in the covenant made at Mount Sinai was broken time and time again. God, though, would make a new and better covenant with Israel. He would write the ‘law’ of this covenant into their hearts in such a way that it would transform them. This covenant is delivered to us in the Lord’s Supper, “the new covenant/testament in Jesus’ blood.”
(Hebrew uses only one word to describe either a one-sided promise like God to made to Abraham or a two-sided contract like God made with Israel through Moses. English however has two distinct words for this: ‘testament’ for the one-side promise and ’covenant’ for the two-sided agreement. Our Bible is divided into an Old Testament and a New Testament, but we could also have accurately named those sections the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.)
The Epistle lesson: Hebrews 5:7-9
The principle reference of verse 7 is to Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although he asked that the cup of suffering and death might be taken from him, he did not waver in his determination to fulfill the Father’s will. His prayer was granted by the Father, who did save him from death—through resurrection.
Jesus was made “perfect” through suffering, namely, his temptation in the desert and his ordeal on the cross. Though he was the eternal Son of God, it was necessary for him as the incarnate Son to learn obedience—not that he was ever disobedient, but that he was called on to obey to an extent he had never before experienced. The temptations he faced were real and the battle for victory was difficult, but where Adam failed and fell, Jesus resisted and prevailed. To undergo this work successfully and to achieve universal salvation could only be attained through his perfection as God, but also reached through his perfect human obedience.