Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

Sunday Church at Home

during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Great is One Who Loves.

The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:

Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All reply: Amen

Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All reply: Blessed be God for ever

Leader: In just over ten days time, the Easter Triduum will begin, at sunset on Holy Thursday. Today we pray for all the believers all over the world for whom Easter brings renewal: may we be fit and ready to make a new start when this Lent is over. Jesus shows us the value of love and sacrifice as we journey towards the kingdom of God.

LITURGY OF THE WORD

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Introduction to the reading: The prophet Jeremiah ministered at a difficult time in Jewish history. Jerusalem, their beloved capital, had been destroyed, and most of the people taken captive to far-off Babylon. In this gloomy setting, Jeremiah expresses the conviction that the Lord will raise up a new leader from the line of David to restore and rebuild their homeland.

A reading from the Book of Jeremiah

“Behold, the days are surely coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers
when I took them by the hand
to bring them out of the land of Egypt
my covenant that they broke,
and I showed myself their Master, says the Lord:
But this is the covenant which I will make
with the house of Israel, after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my law within them,
and  I will write it upon their hearts,
and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And no longer shall each man  teach his neighbour
and each his brother,
saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me
from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord;
for I will forgive their iniquity,
and remember their sin no more.”

The word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4.12-13.14-15 (R. 12a)

Let us pray the Responsorial Psalm.

R/. Create a pure heart for me, O God.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your merciful love;
according to your great compassion,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me completely from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create a pure heart for me, O God;
renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence;
take not your holy spirit from me.

Restore in me the joy of your salvation;
sustain in me a willing spirit.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
that sinners may return to you.

R/. Create a pure heart for me, O God.

Second reading: Hebrews 5:7-9

Introduction to the reading: The letter to the Hebrews was written to a Christian community that had become dispirited and whose faith was faltering. Jesus is presented in today’s passage as a model of suffering and a source of strength in time of need. (This passage is also part of the second reading on Good Friday.)

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.

In the days of his flesh,
Jesus offered up prayers and supplications,
with loud cries and tears,
to him who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard for his godly fears.
Although he was a Son,
he learned obedience through what he suffered;
and having been made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

The word of the Lord.

Glory and praise to you, O Christ
If anyone serves me, he must follow me, says the Lord; and where I am, there shall my servant be also.
Glory and praise to you, O Christ

Gospel: John 12:20-33

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

At that time:
Among those who went up to worship at the feast
were some Greeks.
So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew;
Andrew went Philip and told Jesus.
Jesus answered them,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Truly, truly, I tell you,
unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains alone; / but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hates their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.
If  any one serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there will my servant be also;
if anyone serves me, the Father will honourt them.

“Now my soul is troubled
And what shall I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered.
Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.
Now is the judgment of this world;
now shall the ruler of this world will be cast out;
and I, when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all people to myself.”
He said this to show by which death he was to die.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Reflection on the Readings 

The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.

Homily

Years ago a food company developed a new product – a cake mix. It was a product which only needed water.  All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time. It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn’t understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. t seemed that people weren’t buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn’t want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. It felt like buying a cake instead of using ones own skill to bake a cake. So the company changed the formula and required the customer to add an egg in addition to water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success.

 

Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to “packaging” or presenting the Christian religion. They try to make the call of Jesus Christ as easy as possible because they’re afraid that, if it seems too hard, people won’t “buy” it. You hear this fear operating all the time in popular religion, from well-known Gospel songs and best-selling books to earnest evangelists standing on your doorstep. 

All you have to do is tell Jesus you love Him. All you have to do is accept Him as your Lord and Saviour. All you have to do is pray to Saint Jude and put an ad in the newspaper classifieds. All you have to do is ask for what you want in the Name of Jesus and it will be done for you.” Whenever you hear someone say “All you have to do is …” in relation to Christian Faith, all you have to do is walk away as fast as you can! You don’t want to buy a religion where you don’t even have to add an egg, where it’s all pre-mixed for you in the box. That kind of Faith has an immediate appeal, but it lacks the depth to sustain us over the long haul of Christian living. 

Jesus did not “package” Himself in this way. Jesus said a number of things about the blessings of Faith, and He talked about asking in order to receive, but He never presented the overall Christian life as being particularly easy. 

To understand the Christian life Jesus talks about, we first  look at Jeremiah explaining how God will replace the Old Covenant of Judgment with a New Covenant of Forgiveness of sins.

“Behold, the days are surely coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

The prophet Jeremiah says God is going to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Israel will be one, no longer divided and will be under God’s rule. The people are reminded of the one who is making this promise to them. It is the God who led them out of slavery in Egypt. They broke the covenant; but God doesn’t give up on us, even when we walk away from God and God’s ways.

It will be a “new covenant” – not just a recital of the old laws which people did not observe. What is remarkable is that God is promising this new covenant with a sinful people. The prophet does not say that people were repentant, or had reformed. It is not because of their sterling faith that God is offering them a new covenant; but solely because of God’s mercy and generosity. 

This new covenant is implied in the covenantal formula, “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” God forgives their sins and with this covenant on their hearts, they will become a new, transformed people. But this time God will write the law on the hearts of the people.

That is exactly what God has done in Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection resulted in the overflowing gift of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers. The primary work of the prophets was not to predict the future, but to speak God’s word to their generation. But Jeremiah does seem to be speaking of a future event that refers to Jesus.

Our response today from Psalm 51 turns Jeremiah’s prophecy into a prayer for a transformed and renewed heart: 

“Create a pure heart for me, O God.” 

That what we are praying for this Lent, a renewed, “clean heart,” receptive and responsive to God’s law of love.

In the Gospel, we hear some Greeks make a simple request . The request gets what looks like a disconnected response from Jesus. They ask to “see” Jesus. This is the opportunity for Jesus to give a teaching on what it means to “see” him. We are not talking about a physical seeing, just using our eyes. To “see” in John’s Gospel is to see with the eyes of faith, that is, to become believers in Jesus Christ. What does this seeing entail? Jesus explains it like this. He says that the grain of wheat must die.

The Greeks will see Jesus, only after his death. We, ourselves today, see Jesus after his death. In his ministry Jesus was mostly with the Jews, his own people. When he dies, all people will come to see. But first, he must be “lifted up,” then Jews and Gentiles will not be separated from one another by the law of the first covenant. After Jesus’ death the disciples will go forth to proclaim the crucified Christ to all people. That’s when the grain of wheat that has died, will bear much fruit. 

Jeremiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ. Through Jesus’ death a new law has been written on our hearts – a law which any believer can read. The guidance of the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and live this new covenant.

Lent is the time for us to call to mind, not only our sins, but the ways we have slipped in our love of God and neighbour. Mindful of our need for forgiveness and healing, are there any more encouraging words to hear than the closing verse from Jeremiah in which God promises, “‘All from the least to the greatest shall know me,’ says the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their evil doing and remember their sin no more.”’ 

According to Jeremiah those who know God, who have God’s law within them, written on their hearts, know one thing for sure about our God: we are forgiven and God remembers our sin no more. Or to put it in another way, “It is a new day and we have been given a new beginning.”

Jesus tells his disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” We use the word “glory” in very different ways than what it means in the Bible. We eat a delicious meal and say it was “glorious.” Or, we describe our holiday as “glorious.” After a victory, some stars will give “glory” to God for their accomplishments. As admirable as these testimonials might be, do they really speak of God’s “glory?” Noticed that none of these testimonials ever mention the cross. 

In Scripture, the glorification of the Son of Man refers to his death, resurrection and his return to his Father. Jesus will be glorified and all nations will benefit from it. In other words, when Jesus is glorified the whole world will come to “see” him, just as the Greeks requested. We may be a long time separated from Christ, but through our faith we “see” him. He is as present to us at this time, as he was to his disciples after his death and resurrection.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast
came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

Reflection:

Jesus and his disciples hadn’t preached to these Greeks. They didn’t proselytize them, they came of their own free will. What was the attraction? They and we are attracted by the One who, in his hour, is a completely faithful servant to God; who shows total generosity, willing to give up everything for us, without holding back anything in reserve; 

So we ask ourselves: 

  • How have we benefitted from the sacrifices others have made on our behalf?
  • What sacrifices are we being asked to make for the well being of others?
  • How have we experienced the fruits of these sacrifices in our own lives?

Prayer of the Faithful 

Leader: Let us come before God our Father in faith and hope, asking him to listen to our needs and those of our suffering world.

Reader:

We pray for our Church: (pause) that Pope Francis, our bishops, priests and all of God’s people may be given strength to live their Christian lives more fully.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for all who will be received into the Church this Easter: (pause) that we as a community of faith offer them the support and encouragement they need to grow closer to Christ.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for all who suffer or feel rejected, or who are wounded in body, mind or spirit: (pause) may we be the example of Christ’s acceptance of suffering help them to find comfort in their uncertainties and struggles.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for students and staff at universities in South Africa: (pause) that negotiation and reconciliation might bring peace to campuses in turmoil.  

LORD HEAR US

We pray for successful administration of the Coronavirus vaccine: (pause) that God will guide the distribution and administration of the vaccine and protect all the human family from the virus

LORD HEAR US

We pray for deceased members of our families and friends whose anniversaries occur about this time, 

LORD HEAR US

Leader: Let us pray our prayer for Lent:

LORD JESUS CHRIST, 

by your passion, death and resurrection
you have set us free from sin and death.  

May your grace renew our hearts this Lent
and help us turn from sin in our own lives.  

May we learn to appreciate more deeply
the sacrifice you made for us.  

Accept our prayer, fasting and acts of charity
as we seek to draw closer to you during this holy season.  

Strengthen the faith of your people
so that we may be a sign of your love to all the world.  

We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. 

AMEN.

Spiritual Communion

We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.

By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us. 

My Jesus, I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment, feed my soul spiritually. I unite myself to you now as I do when I receive you. Amen.

CONCLUDING RITE

Leader: Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us: 

All say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

Leader: In our hearts, O God,
you have written a covenant of grace,
sealed by the obedience of Jesus your Son.
Raise us up with Christ,
the grain fallen to earth
that yields a harvest of everlasting life.
Bring us to glorify your name
by following faithfully where he has led.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Amen.

Blessing

A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:

Leader: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

All: Amen.