Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Cost of Covenant

God has given us a New Covenant to live under. It is better than the older one which governed the children of Israel. It is a covenant full of grace and mercy. But we must remember that it came out of the Old Covenant and is mentioned in the Old Testament of our Bible.

In Jeremiah we read:

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. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that 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 on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “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.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God was going to do something he had not yet done and then this covenant would be established. What was God going to do and what did he actually do? He poured out his unmerited favor. He offered such unconditional love that is beyond our human understanding. But it cost God something. It cost him a great deal.

As he was facing the cross, we read the Gospel of John, Jesus explained to his disciples what God was about to do and why it was necessary. He used an analogy of the grain of wheat and how it produces growth. He said:

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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.   (John 12:24-26)

What was Jesus saying? New life comes out of death. The old way has to die before the new can come. When the grain falls to the earth it must die so that new wheat is formed. Jeremiah prophesied that new life would be coming for the people of God. Jesus explained that this new life would be impossible without the death of the old.

The temple worship would have to die so that Christ might become the new temple. The sacrifice of the lamb for Passover would have to end so that he might become the spotless lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the whole world. Jesus was, in fact, the grain of wheat of which he spoke. He would have to die so that he might be resurrected from the dead.

The Book of Hebrews goes into great depth concern the cost of this new covenant:

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. 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.   (Hebrews 5:5-9)

This covenant cost Jesus his life. Hebrews also explains that it will cost our lives as well. If God is to write his law upon our hearts so that we can obey, something must happen. The Old must die before the new comes.

We are also the grain of the New Covenant. King David, in his prayer of repentance, spoke about his inner  being:

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.   (Psalm 51:7-11)

God looks for his truth deep within us. He must change our hearts. In order for him to change our hearts the old heart must die away. David said: “Create in me a clean heart.”

There is a price to pay for this New Covenant. I cost God the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. We, also, must die. Not a cruel death, but a liberating death which brings new life, and abundant life that only God can provide for those who put their trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.   (Romans 6:1-11)

Has God written his law on our hearts? That depends on whether or not we are still holding on to our grain of wheat. Jesus tells us to let it go. He let everything go for us.

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

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