Passion Sunday – Lent 5 – Rev Alison Way

Links to reflection video from Rev Alison Way

Links to reflection video from Bath and Wells Diocese

Jeremiah 31:31-24, John 12:20-33

In the name of the living God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Amen

Over the past 6 weeks, I have been reading a bit of Jeremiah every day in my morning prayer time.  This is not an easy read!! It has mostly been day after day of lament and doom as Jeremiah is speaking to a people in very hard times – Jeremiah was around as the Israelite people were overcome by the Babylonians and scattered and dispersed across the Babylon empire in exile, with no prospect of return. Though the circumstances are different the voice of Jeremiah has spoken into the last few weeks and months with some resonances I hadn’t expected. We live in very different times from Jeremiah but challenging and strange ones none the less. Like the exiled Israelites, we are longing for a different future from our current present too, as we begin to take small and cautious steps out of lockdown. I do urge you to participate in whatever way we can in the National Day of Reflection on Tuesday (more information and resources with this week’s newsletter). The day focuses on praying for those who are bereaved with the themes reflect, support and hope on the first anniversary of our country’s first lockdown.

At one level, we definitely need to be thankful that today’s excerpt from Jeremiah set as our Old testament reading is one of the forward looking parts to better times, beyond those current day to day experiences. Embedded in the middle of it was one of the most profound renderings of the promise of the Messiah of God to come in their day. This is the life and love of Jesus that we look back to as we get to the business end of Lent on this Passion Sunday. The passion refers to the amazing love Jesus had for us and the price he was willing to pay for us, and we often describe the story of the cross and the events of the first Holy Week as ‘the Passion’.

In the Jeremiah passage, the word covenant is used throughout. This should be an alarm bell to us that something important is being said. We will remember the covenant with Noah, with Abraham and with Moses, first in bringing them out of the land of Egypt and then with the giving of the ten commandments. There have been references to these in our Old testament readings over the first 3 Sundays of Lent – The first enshrined a non large scale intervention pact by God after the flood via Noah. The second brought into being the special people of God through Abraham and the third, the way of life governed by the law with Moses.

Let’s pay attention next to a couple of the verses, which explain the new covenant ahead with the coming of Jesus. The Lord says through Jeremiah – No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me.

God had previously promised to love the people of Israel and given them a set of rules to live by, but the people hadn’t managed to live that way. They had repeatedly done lots of things to turn their backs on God. Jeremiah said there will be no need for anyone to teach one another to know God anymore through the law because everyone will know God. This reflects the difference between Israelites needing to learn and be taught the rules in the law to abide by it, to God working from the inside of us via the coming of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. God including everybody not just the Israelite people was also a big and radically inclusive change with the past. God was also not going to rely on teachers or documents to pass the message on. There are flaws in these approaches as other people can get it wrong and of course people can ignore things that are written down! God wasn’t relying on these things as God was going to be with us in our hearts as we know today (and we have probably never consciously known any different).

The new covenant Jeremiah said that God would do then was this.  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.

To understand this idea more, we also need to remember how the heart was understood in Jeremiah’s day. The heart represented the organ of memory, of understanding, of ideas (and, especially, of our wills). Effectively the heart governed why we chose to do what we do (and the functions we would now understand are undertaken by our brains). What we understand though from Jeremiah is that God is able to discern what is in an individual’s heart and live within us through the Holy Spirit Jesus left with us. The phrase about God knowing the secrets of our hearts is a very powerful one.

For Jeremiah – having a new understanding of God in our hearts from the beginning through this promise cuts out the intermediaries of the message (priests/prophets) and our ability to ignore God in our lives.  It puts God at the center of our being – ever present and influential in the choices we make.

With God at the centre dwelling in us, we have been challenged in our #Livelent materials this week in knowing we have really good news, and need to seek ways and moments to share it and show it. This is the best gift we have ever had and it is our responsibility to pass it on. The Holy Spirit is present in our hearts to help us with the words and the actions we need to take, we are not alone in this either, with fellow Christian travellers on the road to encourage us. In the accompanying book by Hannah Steele she defines a number of real life facets to us sharing God’s good news: –

  • Risk taking not comfort seeking. We know great comfort in the love of God, but we need to take the risk to share that comfort with others. The fact we cannot guarantee that in the moment any mention of faith will be well received, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it or plant the seed for later. It can be simple things like for someone who is having a tough time, offering to pray for them in our prayers. My experience is that this is generally well received, but even that might not be. All life is like this – we cannot predict the outcome, but I do feel we need to take each step in faith and be brave especially at the moment.

  • Variety – not one-size-fits-all. The Spirit can work in many different ways, and we can often show the love of God not just in our words but our actions. I have experienced understanding much of God and his love for us through many different actions, attitudes and reactions of others. Often the people God uses have no idea probably how they are helping me and guiding me through how the Holy Spirit is working in them. We haven’t got God’s perspective and we will never know how we may have impacted people by how we live our lives and the love of God we are willing to share. Our job is to be open to the stirrings of the Spirit and co-operative in what God has for us to do or say.

  • Relational not confrontational – All our efforts in this regard start and finish from love of one another. No-one grows into faith in my experience through judgement. This is one of the most insidious sides of social media as it gives us much too much scope to express our judgements forcefully and in the heat of the moment. The gospel has always been shared home to home, from person to person via love – this is just the way the kingdom is… Begin with love, and if what is on your heart doesn’t start there – don’t go there…

  • Seeing God not taking God – We don’t need to know all the answers or assume we are the ones with everything to give. We need to recognise and see where God is at work and join in. Hannah Steele puts this like this The Spirit is always constantly going before us. It is not the case that we are taking God to places where he is not yet present; we are simply following where he leads and being invited to join in with what he is already doing. Again, in my experience, when we get alongside and share God’s love with those around us, this can be a deeply rewarding and inspiring experience as well as a deep privilege.

  • Out there not in here – Much as it is great to be back in our buildings and worshipping in them together, we are not doing that just for ourselves. We are doing that to give us fuel for being out and about sharing the love God has for us with others.

Neither part of this sermon is particularly easy or comfortable today – neither the part explaining the words of Jeremiah or the part asking us to share our faith simply as and when we can, and as and when only we can. But as we face up to the cross of Jesus and his passion for us – being stirred to loving others with his heart matters. As his disciples, we need to draw people to God’s love for them and let the Holy Spirit that is in our hearts be our guide.

Let us pray – Lord God, how can we praise you? How can we know you? Yet you gave us Jesus Christ to show us what you are like and how to love. Teach us again your message of love, and if we ever doubt, lift our eyes to Jesus. Remind us that in the symbol of his cross your love touches and teaches us, our families, our friends, and through us, many more. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995, #LiveLent God’s Story, Our Story – Stephen Hance (Church House Publishing) Living His Story – Hannah Steele (SPCK), Prayer from www.rootsontheweb.