Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-15; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33
Our lives and well-being are moulded by significant relationships. What we are has been formed by relationships with parents, siblings, spouses and many others.
Ultimately this longing to find ourselves in others is rooted in the God who calls us to himself. Because we are sinful, human relationships are far from perfect. They frequently fail, and the consequences can be catastrophic.
Throughout her long history Israel had been called to a covenant relationship with her God. Despite God’s graciousness, the children of Israel had proved themselves incapable of a lasting relationship with God. There had been many opportunities. Repeated infidelity had given rise to new covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and King David. The result had always been the same: the breakdown of the relationship with God.
The Prophet Jeremiah, looking back on this sad history, acknowledged that a sinful people had not only failed – they had become incapable of any lasting response to the love of God. The bankruptcy of Israel’s faith called forth a response of unimagined grace. The Covenant relationship between God and his people would be renewed, but it would be unlike any previous relationship between the God of Israel and his people. “The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors. Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Our own experience of sin is not unlike the sad history that led Israel to Jeremiah’s promise of a New Covenant. Sin, of its very nature, undermines our ability to trust and believe in God. It brings about an isolation that is incapable of retrieving its lost relationship with God.
Christ, through his death and Resurrection, made possible the New Covenant with God for which we were made. It is for this reason that John’s Gospel describes the death and resurrection of Jesus as the hour of glory. “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
This hour of glory is described in terms of the relationship that it enables. Jesus, in death and Resurrection, is lifted up so that he might draw all men to himself. Like the grain that falls to earth and dies, his death is only completed with the Resurrection engendered in the hearts of those who believe.
The New Covenant is Christ’s presence in hearts that have died to his love, lives that have lost their meaning.
The Letter to the Hebrews describes Christ’s Passion and death as a prayer of trust and obedience. “Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death. He submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.”
Through the obedience that was made perfect in death, Jesus entrusted himself to the Father, the source of life. Through repentance we entrust ourselves to Christ. He alone is the New Covenant written on our hearts, becoming, for all who obey him, the source of eternal salvation. No longer is sinful humanity condemned to a cycle of repeated failure. With Christ we are made perfect in the trust that dies to self.