A short while ago, the Bible Study group and I read the entire Book of Jeremiah. This probably should have been our Lenten observance…it required steadfast determination and dedication to get through. Almost the entire Book of Jeremiah is about how wicked the people have been because they have broken their covenant with God, and God is delivering them into the hands of the Babylonians. Chapter after chapter, we were reminded of how wicked the people were and what their punishment would be. It felt overwhelming and bleak. But occasionally, and especially after chapter 25, we would come across glimpses of hope for restoration. Sunday’s passage (Jeremiah 31:31-34) is one of those moments. God tells the people (via Jeremiah) about a new covenant, one that will be written on their hearts; that God will be their God and the people would be God’s people. It’s really quite beautiful. In this moment, God is saying essentially, that the past is the past…the slate has been wiped clean. This passage brings to mind the closing of the Rite of Reconciliation from the Book of Common Prayer:
Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Abide in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins.
God’s new covenant is about transformation. When God’s love is written on our hearts, our actions reflect what brings us joy. When God’s love is written on our hearts, it frees us to be who we truly are—children of God, God’s beloved.
Traditionally, the pairing of this reading from Jeremiah with the Sunday passage from the Gospel of John (12:20-33) is a way of proving that Jesus is this “new covenant” that God is bringing about. And certainly, our Eucharistic theology supports that. When Jesus invited the disciples to break bread and share wine with him, he says that his blood is the blood of the new covenant. But I think there’s another way to think about the pairing of these scriptures.
One of my favorite theologians, Jurgen Moltmann wrote a book called The Crucified God. In it he talks about this “new covenant” and the gift of the Incarnation. He believed that the crucifixion was essential to the Incarnation experience. In other words, if Jesus had not lived as one of us, and had not died the cruelest of deaths, but instead remained fully human with sparks of the divine, then God-incarnate (Jesus) would not have understood our sufferings. The love inscribed on our hearts would have been somehow distant, instead of immediate. The relationship between human and the Divine, would not be intimate…God would be “out there” and “far away”.
But that’s not the Jesus that we find in the gospels, and particularly in this reading from John. Instead, we have a Jesus among the people—Jews, Greeks, men and women. Jesus was with the people. And it is among the people that Jesus has realized that “the hour has come”. As we know, Jesus was a busy man. He had been healing, teaching, feeding, and just prior to this chapter in John he had raised Lazarus from the dead. And now, “the hour has come”.
I don’t know about you, but if I knew when the hour of my death would be, I think I would be more than “troubled”. I think I would be trying to “fix” things…I would make sure that there was enough food in the house for Matt, make sure the kitties had enough kibble and water, call my family, lay out a great outfit to be buried in…I’d be making sure that all the loose ends were tied up. Not so for Jesus. As we will see during Holy Week, Jesus spends his last days with friends and in prayer. He loved them until the end.
But before we get there, I want to take notice of the little parable Jesus teaches in this passage; “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.” What’s he talking about here? I have combed through commentaries and talked to friends trying to understand this parable. And then I read a poem by Michael Coffey that helped to clarify it for me. Here’s a part of the poem:
Either way you're gonna die:
You can open your hand and let loose
the grain of love you bear.
You can open your protected soul to life and death and mystery in the breathable air.
You can plant your seed in the welcoming earth and die to your fear and let something uncontrollable grow. When you are buried like the seed it is already free to break through soil and let the sun kiss it to life and sprinkle the earth with a thousand new grains.
Either way you're gonna die:
But if you let your seed go and die before you die there will be wheat and flour enough to bake bread with holy wild yeast and feed the hungry world, which gives thanks for your small grain to the One who made you to die for the fruit of love.
So what does it mean to lose your life? I think it means letting go of, or dying if you will, our self-importance, our arrogance and greed. It means saying “Yes” to following Jesus. It means saying “Yes” to letting go of those things which hold you back from giving yourself freely. It means saying “Yes” to God who wants to belong to you.
On Thursday I wrote my April newsletter article. And I don’t want to give away too much, but I also address this idea of “dying” or “losing your life”. When we let go of the past, when we let go of old habits and ways of being, we are invited into the “new covenant” of God…we are invited to experience new life. And it is in this new life that God’s love is written on our hearts.
So this week, I invite you to consider if you’re willing to lose your life. Will you hold on tightly to those “grains of wheat” that keep you bound to fear and anxiety, or will you let them go to grow and blossom in new ways?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.