A New Covenantal life of Glory & Love: 5th Sunday Lent
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
5th Sunday of Lent
Theme: “A New Covenantal life of Glory & Love”
Point of reflection: As Christians, we are called to make a new covenantal life of glory and love in these last days of the Lenten period. From Ash Wednesday until today, have I made a covenant with God and commitment to God? Am I ready to enter a new covenantal life of glory and love? The readings of fifth Sunday invite us to examine ourselves and enter into a new covenant life of glory and love with God.
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31–34
Psalm: Psalm 51:3–4, 12–15
Second Reading: Hebrews 5:7–9
Gospel: John 12:20–33
Sermon (Reflection): Fifth Sunday of Lent is rightly placed between Laetare Sunday and Palm Sunday, and the scriptural readings point to the heart of every Christian during Lenten period to make a new covenant of glory and love to God.
To understand today’s theme of the new covenantal life of glory and love, let us look back to the Scriptural readings of the previous Sundays of this Lenten period, all of which refer in one way or another, to the covenant that God has made, with us, His people.
During the first Sunday of Lent we heard about the covenant God made with Noah; during the second Sunday we read about the covenant between God and Abraham, finally, last Sunday’s readings focused on the Sinai covenant reflected in the Ten Commandments.
Today we read about the new covenant, a covenant rooted not in the Law but in a personal relationship with God. This new covenant will be written in the hearts of people.
Biblically, covenants stand at the very heart of biblical revelation and Christian life, taking the form of promises and agreements that define the relationship between God and His chosen people.
The Sinai Covenant was among the most important of these agreements, holistically, it described the way of life for Israel, which became enshrined in the Law. Unfortunately, this covenant was frequently broken, as the Israelites were unable to follow it consistently and faithfully.
A new covenant was therefore needed, one which God would establish through His Son. As we celebrate the fifth Sunday of Lent, we are called to reflect on our life how we have frequently broken our commitment to God’s commandments and will.
We are invited today to establish a new covenant which is of glory and love to God and neighbour. And Jesus Christ is at the centre.
In the first Scriptural reading(Cf. Jeremiah 31:31–34), prophet Jeremiah makes an announcement about God’s decision to establish a new covenant, after the Sinai covenant was broken by the faithless nation. Jeremiah makes a comparison between these two covenants The Sinai covenant was a conditional one which means that if people obeyed God, he would bless them. The people had obligations towards God, who, in turn, pledged to be Israel’s protector and sustainer. Such a covenant could be terminated if its conditions were violated. Indeed, Israel broke the covenant with God, and this led to the Babylonian exile. Jeremiah, who witnessed this tragedy personally, anticipated that God would make a new covenant.
Qualitatively, we can note two major ways in which the new covenant will be different from the other initial covenants.
First, the first covenant failed, not because of God’s infidelity, but due to the sinfulness of the nation and in particular its leaders. While the new covenant would be personal, with every individual responsible for his or her actions and their consequences (Cf. Jeremiah 31:29-30).
Second, the first covenant was written on tablets of stone (Cf. Exodus 24:12). The new covenant will be written on the hearts of people. In biblical language, the heart was the centre of knowing and willing. To inscribe the divine Law on the heart meant to place it indelibly in someone’s mind (Cf. Jeremiah 31:34).
This points to the reality that the new covenant will be unbreakable and that God is going to respond to the people’s sin with forgiveness and mercy. The relationship will be based on personal responsibility, intimate knowledge of God, and sustained by divine mercy. This is the call to us Christians to make a new covenant of glory and love to God.
Quite interesting to note is that, the author of the letter to the Hebrews adopts Jeremiah’s view of the new covenant, quoting Jeremiah extensively in Hebrews 8:8-12. The second Scriptural passage read today comes from the part of the Hebrew letter which focuses on Jesus as the High Priest of the new covenant. This is a different type of priesthood from the one described in the Law, one in the “order of Melchizedek” (Cf. Hebrews 5:10).
As a priest, Jesus is different from the Israelite priests who served under the first covenant.
As the High Priest, Jesus offered one unique sacrifice leading to the permanent forgiveness of the peoples’ sin. Sins might still be committed by individuals and subsequently forgiven through repentance. However, Jesus’ one-time sacrifice on the Cross ensured that the relationship between God and his people would never be decisively disrupted by human sinfulness (Cf. Hebrews 10:1-18).
Interpreting Jesus’ death as the sacrifice for sins, the author of Hebrews reveals a very different understanding of priesthood to that practised under the first covenant. In the sacrificial rituals of the Old Testament priests sacrificed animals or agricultural products, not themselves. But Jesus is simultaneously the high priest and the sacrificial victim. His self-sacrifice shows radical identification and complete devotion to God and to the people. This is the type of covenant Jeremiah anticipated when speaking about the Law “written on the person’s heart.”
Jesus showed what that means by becoming the priest and the sacrifice all at once. Doing so, he brought about reconciliation and sealed the unbreakable union between God and humanity.
The Gospel of the fifth Sunday in Lenten time calls Jesus’ last days of suffering, death and resurrection a “glorification” (Cf. John 12:20–33). Jesus’ glorification takes place on the Cross where He seals the new covenant. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus explains this aspect of His mission through the symbol of the grain that must fall into the ground and die in order to initiate new life. As Christians, we too need to die so that we get the new life. The imagery of the dying of the seed and bearing much fruit, is contrasted with the seed preserving itself and remaining alone.
To be productive, the seed must first die. Evangelist John applies this image allegorically to Jesus, pointing to the necessity of his death so that new life might spring up. The fruit of Jesus’ death is described as drawing all people to Jesus lifted up on the cross.
Jesus becomes like a magnet raised above the earth drawing everyone to itself.
This image serves as a metaphor for bringing people into the heavenly realm and into a new union with God. This union is the new covenant made through Jesus’ death leading believers to full communion with God in eternal life. As Christians too, we need to die so that we rise in new spirit with a new covenantal life of glory and love.
Listening to the Word of God “Entering a Covenantal life of glory & love”
Through prophet Jeremiah, God tells us about a new law carved not on stone but in our hearts. It is an invitation to all of us to open our hearts and inscribe the covenantal life of glory and love in our hearts. God has already planted His law within us intending to draw us into an intimate relationship with Him, and to bridge the gap between the divine and the human.
This covenant has been sealed by the suffering and resurrection of Christ and nothing can destroy it. To enter into a new covenantal life of glory and love, we need to pray with the psalmist (Cf. Psalm 51:3–4, 12–15): Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me:
Have mercy on me, O God,
According to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant mercy
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
And do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And sustain in me a willing spirit.
As new people of the new covenant of glory and love, we are invited to seek an ever-closer relationship with God. We need to constantly open our hearts to allow God to speak to us. Let us open our hearts and minds to triumphantly enter Jerusalem as next Sunday is Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, and the mother Church recalls the solemn entrance of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem to accomplish His Paschal Mystery.
Action: I (we), during the remaining days of Lent, will make a conscious effort to make a new covenant of glory and love, and deepen my (our) union with God and His Son by repenting and receiving the sacrament of confession to remove the obstacles that separate me (us) from experiencing God’s love fully.
Prayer: God our Father, grant me the grace to know you more intimately, to love you more deeply, and to serve you more fervently. Help me to enter into a new covenantal life of glory and love with You, we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, Amen.
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