Jeremiah 31.31 – 34
Psalm 51
Hebrews 5. 7 – 9
John 12. 20 -33

One focus during Lent is to reflect on our own death and to see our way through it. We all must die, as much as we don’t like the fact. We try to hide it, dodge it, deny it. Yet we can’t in fact escape it. Jesus came into the world, not so much to do away with death (not immediately) but to teach us how to die by his example and then to assure us that death does not say the last word about life. When we walk into the valley of death we do not walk alone. Jesus is with us because he’s been there before and knows what it is like. Moreover he promises us that just as he rose from the dead so will we. We will all be young again. We will all laugh again.

Today’s readings speak of creating relationships, forming bonds, making friendships. The partners are God and men. God takes the initiative, God gives, suffers and dies – that man may receive, rejoice and live. A grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is buried in the ground and dies. If it dies, then it produces many grains. One grain dies and the very process of death becomes a vital source of life for many. “When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak: when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15: 3 – 44). From death issues better life.
All human relationships are built on sacrifice. Friendships thrive best in the soil of sacrifice. A mother dies a little in giving birth to her child.
The life of Christ was a high drama of suffering and labour to bring about a new relationship between God and man. During His last supper, Christ offered His body and blood and called it precisely the blood of the new covenant. On the cross He was lifted high as a victim of love. Christ died on the altar of the cross. On the cross Christ regained and renewed the friendship between God and man, between God and each one of us. We Christians belong to the many grains sprouting from the fallen and buried grain, Christ.
In the words of St Paul, it is from His suffering that Jesus learned obedience. To be a son, even the Son of God, is not all glory and glamour, privilege and preference. To be a son means to submit, to surrender one’s will to the will of the Father. And that implies suffering. In the garden Jesus learned it from experience. We hear His groans “Now is my soul troubled…Father, save me from this hour.” Jesus suffers terribly and in His great suffering, instinctively and confidently as a child. He turns to His Father. In these moments of extreme and excruciating suffering stands revealed Jesus, Son of Servant. However great is Jesus’ suffering, it has a higher purpose and principle. Jesus naturally recoils from the impending, agonizing moment. Yet He prays, “No for this purpose I came to this hour, Father Your will be done.”
Here Jesus’ relationship with His Father as obedient Son and suffering servant reaches its peak. Jesus seems to say, “My hour has come. My hour appointed by you. My hour of death. The hour I will be lifted up. The supreme hour of glorification of My father’s name, the hour of salvation for my brethren. The hour I’ll raw many to Myself.” The grain of wheat falls to the ground, dies an bears much fruit.
Today we celebrate Feast of St. Patrick. He left behind the comforts of Roman Britain to fulfil his mission as a wandering preacher in Ireland. He learned the Irish language and the local customs, respected their religious ideals and gave new meaning to their traditional high-places (like Croagh Patrick) and holy wells. In modern mission practice, radical inculturation is seen as essential to gaining a people’s heart for Christ.
Patrick’s distinctive spirituality grew out of his personal experience of Christ, of his mission to Ireland of the needs of the newly evangelized. (One can link his Christ-centred “Loricum” with the spirituality of his great apostolic mentor, St. Paul, as expressed in today’s noble passage from Philippians. Like Paul, Patrick regarded faith as not just knowledge but as a life filled with Christ. Faith is not simply a matter of ‘knowing’ the teachings of Christ and of the Church. It is a ‘sensing of the presence of Christ and a response to that presence. This is an aspect of Patrick which we could do with retrieving in our hectic, electronic-dominated age. Patrick grew to realize that the faith into which he was baptized as a child was more than a belief system which filled the head. It was a relationship with God, an awareness of the presence of the person of Christ sharing his life at every moment.
Patrick affirms the worth of each human being. His Confession invites us all to some measure of conversion, on this his feast day. His message was to draw people together in the spirit of the Gospel. This task is still an urgent one. Even in our prosperous society, the mantra of limited resources is used to hide the unequal provision of health care, education and employment. Our society is coarsened by injustice as much as by violence and murder. It is time to revive Patrick’s vision of the value of the individual, even those who hate and oppose us.
Jesus himself was the supreme expression of this principle. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in dying yields a harvest of life. He describes that harvest in prophetic words: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
If God worked powerfully through the life of Jesus, He worked even more powerfully through the death of Jesus, a death that reveals the power of God’s love, even more fully than his life of healing and ministry, for the amazing love revealed in his death on the cross drew people to God, and continues to do so. Over the centuries, millions of people, by looking upon the crucifix, have experienced God’s personal love and compassion and found themselves drawn to God in return. In accepting the loss of so much that was dear to him, in particular, his vibrant life and warm companionship with others, Jesus drew people of all nations to himself and, thereby, to sharing in God’s life.
It was when some Greeks (i.e. foreigners) came to hear him speak that Jesus made this declaration; and then he asked: “What shall I say? Save me from this hour. No, it was for this reason I have come to this hour.” In these lovely spring days we may find ourselves sowing some seeds in the garden. The seed that dies in order to yield a new form of life is as familiar to us today as it was in the day of Jesus. This phenomenon of nature can speak to our own experience as much as it did to the experience of Jesus. Each of us in different ways has to accept some significant loss if we are to remain true to our deepest and best self, true to what God is asking of us.
Then there are other losses in life that we do not choose, but that are forced upon us. These are losses we have no choice but to accept. We may have to accept the loss of people we love and care about because of choices they make themselves. Parents may not wish to see a son or daughter go far away to live and work, but they accept this necessary loss out of respect for the one they love. In accepting the losses that life imposes, in letting go of those we love, we often find something fuller and richer, just as Jesus’ disciples received him again in a new and fuller way through his resurrection from the dead and the sending of the Spirit.
At the end, for each of us, there is the final, unavoidable struggle to let go of our very life, with all the loss that is entailed in that. As we face of all these inevitable losses that are integral to life, we are strengthened by the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” We trust and believe that, at the end of the day, after we have struggled through all our losses, the Lord will draw us to himself, and, when that happens, we will lack nothing.
God bless.