Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 18, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s Gospel is taken from St. John’s account of the last week of Jesus’ life.
And it’s clear that Jesus knows that this is going to be no ordinary week,
that He’s going to suffer and die this week, as He says,
“I am troubled now.”
But it’s equally clear that He must and will endure it:
“Yet what should I say?… it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”
He had waited for this hour all His life.
But in reality, the whole of creation had waited for this hour
from the beginning of the world.
Because only He—at this hour—
could restore to creation what it had lost in its beginnings:
only He could restore creation’s obedience to its creator.
The book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning
everything God created lived in perfect harmony and peace,
there was no discord.
In short, there was nothing bad, there was no evil
–everything, as Genesis tells us, “was very good.”
Genesis also tells us that God had entered into a covenant with Adam and Eve,
giving them His love and everything He created in the world,
except for 1 thing:
the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And all He asked for in return was their love,
and in the context of that love, obedience.
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve failed to love Him: they broke the covenant.
And so placing their will above God’s will,
they disobeyed Him and ate from the forbidden tree.
And they discovered what they had never known before:
the difference between good and evil.
And from that moment on, everything God had given them
would never again be exactly as it was supposed to be:
Disharmony and confusion, pain and sorrow, sin and evil,
would reign in the world.
But God did not create man for sin, but for His love,
so right from the beginning God promised he would send someone
to restore order to creation: a Savior.
Eventually, in order to prepare the way for the Savior,
He again made a Covenant with a group of human beings—the Israelites:
as we read in today’s 1st reading, He promised:
“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
He would protect them, give them a home,
and give them a law that would teach them
how to live in harmony with each other, and with Him—how to love.
And in return they promised to love and obey Him, without reserve.
Yet time and again His people broke the covenant.
Until finally things got so bad that He told his prophet Jeremiah:
“The days are coming,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…”
But this covenant would not be like the old one:
it would not be something to read on blocks of stone,
but it would be written in the very hearts of His people:
it would actually change them and make it possible for them
to overcome the confusion of sin.
And He kept His promise.
Last week we read:
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”
And the Son came into the world to undo what Adam and Eve had done.
He came not to be disobedient, but to obey His Father.
He did not reach up to the tree to pick a forbidden fruit,
instead He came down from heaven, like a fruit falling to ground to die.
He did not try to lift Himself up like Adam and Eve, to be glorified like God,
but rather allowed Himself to be lifted up from the earth on a Cross,
in humiliation and suffering.
But as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:
“when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself.”
By obediently suffering and dying out of love
He gives Himself to the Father, and to us.
He undoes the disobedience of Adam
and undoes the disharmony between the Father and mankind.
He comes to us from the Father, so we can come to the Father through Him .
We need never again be separated from Him, never live in the disharmony of sin.
But Christ did this 2000 years ago.
How do we now, today, share in His great act of obedience?
How are we given the grace of his love for the Father?
Today’s Gospel tells us:
“unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Jesus doesn’t compare His death on the Cross
to the death of “a grain of wheat” by accident.
To the Jews wheat meant only one thing:
the most basic and staple food of their existence: bread!
For over 12 hundred years God’s prophets had promised the chosen people
that the Savior would bring with Him bread from heaven
—food that would be so wonderful and powerful that they would, in effect,
never again hunger for Adam’s tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And just month’s before Jesus was lifted up on the Cross,
He promised that He would somehow give them Himself
as this bread to eat.
And so on the night before He was lifted up on the Cross,
He took bread made of wheat and said to His 12 apostles:
“This is my body which is given for you.”
And then He took a cup of wine, fruit of the vine, and said:
“This is the chalice of My blood, the blood of the new Covenant.”
The promise of the Savior made to Adam is fulfilled in Christ.
And the promise of the new covenant made to Jeremiah is fulfilled on the Cross:
Jesus gives Himself to the Father by giving His body and blood
—His whole life—on the Cross.
And He gives Himself to us
—to each of us and all of us, whether living in the year 33 AD,
or the year 2018 AD—
He gives Himself to us by giving His body and blood in the Eucharist.
And by receiving this Eucharist,
eating the wheat which has fallen to the ground to die,
we are lifted up into this perfect life:
He does not remain outside of us
like a stone with the law carved on it,
but rather enters into us, really and truly,
to give us new hearts of love.
And uniting Himself to us in this Holy Communion,
making us one with Him in His perfect obedience and love for the Father,
He restores the perfect harmony between God and man, even 2000 later.
But there is a catch:
just as Adam and Eve freely chose to act in disobedience to God’s will,
we must also freely choose to act in obedience to God’s will.
Neither the Cross or the Eucharist is magic—they are part of the Covenant.
To participate in this Covenant we must not only
accept the free gift of Himself that Christ offers to us,
we must also give Him ourselves in return.
So as Christ gives Himself to the Father by obediently accepting His will,
we must also give ourselves to Christ
by obediently accepting His will for us,
even if it means changing our hearts to love Him,
even if it means giving up our old lives dominated
by the world of confusion and evil.
And so Jesus tells us that:
“Whoever …hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me, …
The Father will honor whoever serves me.”
And St. Paul tells us that in his obedience to the Father, Jesus:
“became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
All Lent we practice obedience through the various sacrifices we make.
Yet as we struggle even with these small things,
we realize we really have very little strength to be obedient to ourselves,
much less to God.
But just as all of Lent points to the Cross of Christ, it also points to Eucharist.
Without the Eucharist Christ cannot come to us, He can not unite Himself to us.
But with the Eucharist He can transform our feeble efforts
and unite them to His own:
–uniting our sacrifices to His, our obedience to His, our love to His,
our whole life to His.
And in the Cross’s mystery of OBEDIENCE,
we find not demeaning humiliation,
but the glory that Adam and Eve sought and lost
“Father, glorify your name.”
–and Father responds: “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
So in the Eucharist, Jesus offers to unite us not only to his obedience,
but also to his glory.
As we continue the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
in a few moments I’ll ask you to “lift up your hearts to the Lord.”
When I say that, you’re supposed to do that!
So when I say that, lift your hearts and your whole self,
up to Christ in obedient sacrifice,
just as Christ Himself was lifted up in obedient sacrifice on the Cross.
And later, when I lift up the body and blood of Christ for you to see and adore,
open your hearts to receive Him, to become one with Him.
And remember the promise He made of the New Covenant:
“when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw all men to myself.”