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Worship Resources, Prayer and Bible Resources

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Year B

Liturgical Colour - Purple


Introduction

Jesus is often shown as self confident assured and driven to achieve his goals. In the passage from John today we read that Jesus was troubled, conflicted about the choices which lay before him. yes, Jesus chose the correct path and leads us allto follow God and make the right choices. However, that does not mean that Jesus is somehow oblivious to the difficulties which we face even knowing which is the right and wrong path to chose, let alone following it. We have a Saviour who understands and can therefore help us and have compassion when we get it wrong.

Opening Verses of Scripture 

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen Common Worship

Gracious Father, you gave up your Son out of love for the world: lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion, that we may know eternal peace through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen Common Worship Shorter Collect

Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings, and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

First Bible Reading Jeremiah 31:31-34

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, " declares the LORD. 

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." 

Second Reading Hebrews Chapter 5:5-10

Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’; as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’

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, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel Reading John 12:20-33 

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 

Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. 

"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 

Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Post Communion Sentence

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for you: give us the will to be the servant of others as you were the servant of all, and gave up your life and died for us, but are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Commentary

In our reading today we see Jesus tell his disciples that his heart has been troubled. The Greek word we translate as 'troubled' is 'tetaraktai' and it would be better translated as 'violently disturbed.' He wonders what he should pray for, should he ask God to take it all away from him and give him a quiet life. It reminds me of the film 'The Last Temptation of Christ,' in which Willem Dafoe play a very human Jesus. It was incredibly controversial when it was released in 1988, although it receives an 84% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The most controversial part of the film was probably the sex scene with Mary Magdalene, which is actually something in the mind of Jesus, a hallucination as he endures the suffering on the cross. Jesus wonders how life might have turned out if he had just lived an ordinary life and not taken the path of the cross. What would life have been like if he had married like everybody else and had children and become old. What the film explores is the humanity of Jesus, the doubting of Jesus. To put it in other words, what would Jesus have been like if he had been like us?

Of course the passage today shows that Jesus was like us. A God who became human but who did not experience all of the anguish of humanity would have been a sham. Jesus must have experienced what it is like to be lonely, to be troubled and he must have had sexual feelings, otherwise he cannot be said to be able to understand and feel what we do, his humanity would be a charade. The Book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was truly tempted 'in every way, just as we are - yet without sin.' It is important therefore that we see Jesus today in this Gospel reading acknowledging how violent was the disturbance to his life by the challenges and conflicts which challenged him, he was ‘violently disturbed.’

It is precisely because Jesus knows this experience of human flesh, from the inside, that he is able to have compassion and understand those who sin and make mistakes. This is why we have a God of forgiveness who opens wide his arms on the cross, instead of pointing the finger. How else could Jesus have forgiven the soldiers who put nails in his hands and feet as he hung on the cross? They had never even asked for forgiveness from the Saviour whose love was so great that he recognised they were unquestioningly following orders as they had done so many times before when they nailed criminals to crosses.

It is such a Saviour who inspires the writer of Hebrews to encourage us to approach God with confidence 'so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.'

Hebrews chapter 4:14-16
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Of course Jesus rises above his troubled heart and shows that the way to peace and fulfillment lies not in avoiding the cost, but rather in working out God's will. We are all too often tempted to believe that the way to true happiness is to be self interested. A good life might be considered to be a long life in which the person worked hard to have enough to provide for themselves and their family. Jesus died young and poor, teaching his followers that the way to gain life was by being willing to die.

We think of death as the ultimate failure, the great leveller of humankind, the common fate of clay. Jesus uses words in which he clearly sees death in very different terms. Jesus uses the example of a seed which dies in the ground, but instead of that being the end of it, the seed instead gives life. When I was young I grew potatoes on my grandfathers allotment in Liverpool. He gave me a small bag of seed potatoes and I had to dig holes and plant them at the bottom of the holes and cover them over. Eventually green shoots appeared on the surface of the soil and after some weeks of piling more soil and watering I dug down into the soil with a fork. The original seed potatoe was no more, but it was replaced by many more fresh new potatoes. The one potatoe had died, it had been sacrificed to bring about the creation of new life, it was a something of a miracle. The message of Jesus is very clear to those who wish to follow him in the way of the Christian life. The way to abundant life is through personal sacrifice, willing to put aside your own self interest and be concerned rather for the interests of others. Charles Royden

 

Meditation

It was great to have a full chapel at St Mark’s on Ash Wednesday and I was pleased to welcome my brother Ross who preached for us on his visit to Bedford. Ross spoke about Ash Wednesday and how it reminds us of our death. It might sound gruesome but it was actually a great service to start Lent. On Ash Wednesday across the world the priest places a cross on the forehead of the worshipper and says


‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’

It is a sobering moment as we remind ourselves that our time on earth is limited. Ash Wednesday is one of the most powerful days of the entire church year, however it is not for the fainthearted or the casual worshippers because there is no fooling around. The service challenges what our prevailing society pretends, that somehow we can live on and on. We are obsessed with eating the right things, doing the right exercise, having health checks, which we hope will prolong our days and stave off death. Ash Wednesday is a most honest of days, because we come to God’s place and are reminded of the simple truth that our days are numbered. No matter how hard we fight to hold back the years and cling to the appearance of youth, those ashes remind us that we are in physical decay, going back to dust.

This reminder of dust is taken straight out of the pages of Genesis. When Adam is turned out of the Garden of Eden, God tells Adam that he has ruined everything in the created order because of his disobedience. Adam has messed things up and now the world is not as God intended
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Adam got into this mess following the lie Satan told the woman Eve. Satan held out to Eve the ultimate temptation, that she would not die (3:4). Perhaps our generations are more tempted by this fantasy than ever before as we become ever more secular and materialistic. The church has always been very good at reminding people that they are mortal. We might not be as rigorous as St Benedict who in his famous "Rule," advised his monks to "see death before one daily," nevertheless it has been part our basic pattern in our worship and pastoral services to speak of death and prepare for it. Contrast this with the medical profession today which seems incapable of dealing with death, refuses to prepare for it to the extent that it might never happen and deals with it as a medical experience.

In his memoir, the atheist Christopher Hitchens described his dying days — feelings of impotence, oppression, resignation, unbearable physical pain, humiliation, and vulnerability. And he meditates on the poetry of TS Eliot: "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker; / and I am afraid."

There are good reasons to remind ourselves of our mortality and its not all doom and gloom! When we live in the conscious state that we have limited time, we live differently, more spiritually. Materialism challenges us to get stuff, to spend time acquiring, building and becoming. When we have a proper spiritual perspective on life we are not so concerned with the size of our barns. There is a change of priorities for those who wear the cross of ash on their foreheads, giving is more important than getting, family and friendships rather than ambitions and achievements. This is a more authentic way to live, there is no denial of the reality of death, a healthier perspective that life hangs by a thread and should therefore be enjoyed and lived well. We live conscious of our death in order that we might truly enjoy living fully in the present moment of our lives.

As we move from Ash Wednesday towards Easter, thank God for Lent, for the opportunity to live authentically and not in denial of our humanity. Most importantly during this time of Lent we look forward to Easter which confirms God’s promise of resurrection. Death loses it sting for the Christian people who look forward to that day when God will restore all things and his Garden is lovely once more.
‘Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay 
and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.’

Charles Royden

 

Hymns

  1. All my hope on God is founded 
  2. I'll go in the strength of the Lord 
  3. All I once held dear 
  4. Lord of creation to you be all praise 
  5. To God be the glory

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer encouragement in the Christian life

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian. If it is well
cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

Soul of Christ, sanctify us; Body of Christ, save us; Blood of Christ, refresh us; Water from the side of Christ, wash us; Passion of Christ, strengthen us; O good Jesus hear us; Within your arms, hide us; From the power of darkness defend us. Bid us come to you that with your saints we may praise you. Amen From the Anima Christi c 1300

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us from all sin and death. Breathe upon us with the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ, and serve you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Methodist Worship

O Christ give us patience and faith, and hope as we kneel at the foot of thy cross, that however ill the world may go, the father so loved us that he spared not thee. Charles Kingsley

 

Additional Material

 

Introduction

Jeremiah knew that God would forgive the people and forget their violations of the old covenant. Jeremiah knew that God loves humankind so much that he would try again and again to show his love. Jeremiah did not know exactly when or how God would enact a new covenant, he simply knew with absolute certainty that God would bring them new hope. 

The new covenant established by Jesus is the ultimate and final covenant between God and human beings. On God's side of the contract, he promises to love us, forgive us, and guarantee us the hope of eternal life. On our side of the covenant, we are expected to put our faith and trust in Jesus. We are called to affirm our faith that Jesus is the Son of God and that his life and teaching and death and resurrection provides ultimate meaning for our lives and salvation for our souls. Charles Royden

Commentary

With the unrest still going on in Iraq, it is strange to think that the reading from Jeremiah this morning was spoken to a group of people who were held prisoner near Baghdad. 

The passage from Jeremiah is about a new covenant. Covenant is the Biblical word for an agreement. When we make an agreement today, we might shake hands, sign a legal document, or if we are feeling romantic, perhaps give a ring or seal it with a kiss;

In the Bible we read about some very serious covenants and actions which followed. 

  1. There was the covenant with Noah following the flood, when God promised humanity that he would always be faithful. The rainbow was the sign of that agreement. 
  2. The covenant with Abraham was made after Abraham showed great faith in God, and God declared that he would make Abraham's descendants a great nation. The sign of that covenant was circumcision. 
  3. Then there was a covenant with Moses, when God delivered the people out of captivity from Egypt. The covenant was sealed at Sinai with the giving of the written law, the Israelites promised to be obedient and to have no other Gods but Yahweh. 

The problem was that the Israelites continually failed to keep their part of the bargain in these covenants. The prophets, like Jeremiah, realized that human sinfulness made them weak partners in the deal. So through the prophets, God spoke of a new kind of covenant, not written on tablets of stone like the commandments, but on the hearts of the people. This new covenant was not to be just for the Jews but for all the people. Jeremiah spoke about this new covenant. 

Jeremiah was born in Anathoth, 3 miles north of Jerusalem and began preaching about 627BC. Jeremiah witnessed the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jerusalem was captured and destroyed and the people were taken away into exile in Babylon. Babylon was the centre of the Babylonian empire, a place on the river Euphrates about 60 miles south of Baghdad. Jeremiah believed that God was loyal to those who were loyal to him, but God had been hurt by the way the Jews had been unfaithful. Jeremiah saw the invasion by the Babylonians as the punishment of God. But, he also believed that God would bring a new future of hope, if the people only trusted and believed. 

Chapters 30-33 are sometimes called 'The Book of Consolation' and the passage todayThe days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel from Chapter 31 is one of the most well known in the whole book. Jeremiah wrote about a 'New Covenant'.He wrote, 'The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.'

Five centuries after Jeremiah, the death of Jesus was the fulfillment of the covenant promised by Jeremiah, and Jesus announced that his own blood was the seal of that new covenant. At the exact time when the lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover, Jesus saw himself as the new lamb of God and started the new covenant with his blood. And, from that day on, billions of Christians have celebrated Holy Communion with the words, 'This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me?

So in the midst of captivity and hopelessness, Jeremiah wrote of God's forgiveness and willingness to enter into a new covenant with the Hebrew people. He wrote that God would forget the old covenant that they had broken so often and remember their sin no more. This was not blind optimism, he knew that God did not want to punish people, but rather to change their hearts. 

Jeremiah knew that God would forgive the people and forget their violations of the old covenant. Jeremiah knew that God loves humankind so much that he would try again and again to show his love. Jeremiah did not know exactly when or how God would enact a new covenant, he simply knew with absolute certainty that God would bring them new hope. 

The new covenant established by Jesus is the ultimate and final covenant between God and human beings. On God's side of the contract, he promises to love us, forgive us, and guarantee us the hope of eternal life. On our side of the covenant, we are expected to put our faith and trust in Jesus. We are called to affirm our faith that Jesus is the Son of God and that his life and teaching and death and resurrection provides ultimate meaning for our lives and salvation for our souls. Charles Royden

 

 

Hymns

O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels thy blood
So freely spilt for me;

A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great redeemer's throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone;

A humble, lowly, contrite heart,
Believing, true, and clean;
Which neither life nor death can part
From him that dwells within;

A heart in every thought renewed,
And full of love divine;
Perfect, and right, and pure, and good,
A copy, Lord, of thine!

Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart;
Come quickly from above,
Write thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of love.

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my words to them.
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. ......

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will send the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. .....

O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee:
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee:
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine's blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O joy, that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee:
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain,
that morn shall tearless be.

O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee:
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red
life that shall endless be.

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down,
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter every trembling heart.

Breathe O breathe, thy loving Spirit
into every troubled breast
let us all in thee inherit
let us find they promised rest
Take away the love of sinning
Alpha and Omega be
end of faith as its beginning
set our hearts at liberty

Come, almighty to deliver,
let us all thy grace receive;
suddenly return, and never,
never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above;
pray, and praise thee, without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation:
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation,
perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise!

 

Behold the servant of the Lord!
I wait thy guiding eye to feel,
To hear and keep thy every word,
To prove and do thy perfect will,
Joyful from my own works to cease,
Glad to fulfil all righteousness.

Me if thy grace vouchsafe to use,
Meanest of all thy creatures, me,
The deed, the time, the manner choose;
Let all my fruit be found of thee;
Let all my works in thee be wrought,
By thee to full perfection brought.

My every weak though good design
O'errule or change, as seems thee meet;
Jesus, let all my work be thine!
Thy work, O Lord, is all complete,
And pleasing in thy Father's sight;
Thou only hast done all things right.

Here then to thee thine own I leave;
Mould as thou wilt thy passive clay;
But let me all thy stamp receive,
But let me all thy words obey,
Serve with a single heart and eye,
And to thy glory live and die.