The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B, St. Bede’s Church, Manchester

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications… and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb. 5:7-8).

Lent is a journey, one we take each year, from the beginning with Ash Wednesday to the ending before Easter Day.  This Lent the journey began in Middle Tennessee with sleet and snow, and it’s winding to its end with a beautiful rainy Spring. We also began this journey with the overhanging cloud of the pandemic, though now the metaphorical ice is beginning to break and we’re moving, slowly but surely into a new reality. Every year, the church’s Lent is a journey we take with Jesus, from the temptation in the Wilderness to the final journey to Jerusalem. It’s also leading to a new reality. We’re walking with Jesus, joining in his life and death, so that we can share his resurrection.

Jesus sets the stage today in our Gospel, when he tells the disciples, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jo. 12:24). His death will lead to new life, just as the burial of the seed brings forth a new shoot and new resurrection growth. From the new life that sprouts up comes fruit: new disciples, new life shared with many others, and a great harvest at the end.

Jesus is the critical juncture, the switching point at which everything happens, the seed that is sown. St. Paul, in the Letter to the Colossians, calls him “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). Not the only one, but the first born of many who will come after. But over and over, we begin with him. As St. Paul writes, just a few verses earlier in the same letter, that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15), the mainspring of life itself, putting his primacy before all things.

Our reading from Hebrews claims this same ground, when the apostolic writer quotes Psalm 2, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7). Jesus is God’s initiative, the only Son of God; yet the main point that’s being made in our reading is that Jesus shares our life, that he has a life in common with us. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Here the dots are being connected for us: Jesus is like us, he suffers like us, he learns like us.

It says earlier in Hebrews, “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17). Then again, “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb. 2:18). And then in our reading, “having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9). Jesus is our Savior because he shares our human life.

In other words, we share Jesus’ new life because he shared our life first. That’s the critical transaction. Sometimes we’re tempted to keep Jesus fenced-off from human life; so fenced-off that he becomes unreal and disconnected from us. That kind of Divine Person cannot be a Savior, because the critical juncture between God and humanity is broken. What Jesus says and does becomes irrelevant because it has nothing to do with us, and cannot speak a word to us in our present state.

But Jesus as we meet him in Hebrews is not like that. He’s like us. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb. 5:7). Jesus is a priest who offers intercession for us because he knows the territory we inhabit. He shares our humanity. As it says in the fourth chapter, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

We share his new life in the sacraments, where God gives grace for the transformation of our lives. In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul asks his readers, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). By baptism, we connect with him, become his disciples, and inherit eternal life. In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we eat and drink his body and blood, his life given for us so it can become life in us, that we may live in him. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” (Jo. 6:54).

That’s where we are in our Lenten journey this year. The critical transition from death to life is the Easter transition, the seed that is sown in death but which springs to new life. That’s where we’re headed; but it only happens because Jesus shares our life first. He intercedes for us, mediates for us, rises to life for us, by sharing our life first. We’re following him this Lent, and every day of our life, in order to share the new life that he has won for us. We’re seeking the new reality, and we’ll glimpse it on Easter Day.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee