Sunday  21st March – 5th Sunday of Lent  


The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.

Collect

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.

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First Reading

Hebrews 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.

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 Gospel

John 12.20-33

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’  Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  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 honour.  ‘Now my soul is troubled.  And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”?  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.’  Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’  The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder.  Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’  Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.  Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’  He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

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 Post Communion Prayer

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.


Sermon

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.

When I was in Junior school, many moons ago, my teacher used to read to us in the afternoons – books that were beyond what we could read for ourselves or maybe fully understand, but still books with an intriguing story.  One such book was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories and I remember the story of how the elephant got its trunk – the elephant’s child was so filled with ‘insatiable curtiosity’ that it investigated the crocodile which got hold if its short nose and pulled and pulled until the nose became a long trunk.

So what has ‘insatiable curtiosity’, or curiosity as we usually call it, got to do with Passion tide – that two weeks before Easter where we concentrate on Jesus’ suffering?  I think the answer is that curiosity tranforms us.  When I was studying the readings for today, the word that jumped out at me was Melchisedek – a word I certainly can’t spell and probably can’t pronounce.  Who or what was Melchisedek and why is he so important that he is mentioned twice in a short passage? 

It turns out that Melchisedek was the High priest of the God of God’s who welcomed Abraham back after he had defeated the four Kings.  (Genesis 14:18-20). Melchisedek offered Abraham bread and wine – a sign that the ultimate sacrificial offering is bread and wine.  …now does that remind us of anything?

Melchisedek is the highest of all the priests, a priest serving the highest of all the Gods.  At the time that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, Christianity was not yet fully established and the disciples were witnessing in a time and place where there were lots of different gods with lots of different orders of priesthood.  The point that the writer of Hebrews is making is that Jesus is the highest priest, and that God is the only one true God above all others. How does Jesus become the high priest? – through suffering and reverent submission.  In this passage, when Jesus prays it is with, and I quote,  ’loud cries and tears’ … It wasn’t easy for him to become the High Priest – , he suffered for it, and finally he learned obedience ‘through what he suffered’.

In the passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus also obeys God although it causes him suffering. His answer to the question ..’should I say Father, save me from this hour?’ is a resounding ‘No’.

So this is why the two weeks before Easter Sunday are called ‘Passion tide’.  Not passion in the sense of all consuming love, but passion meaning Suffering.  In some ways it is strange to call the Sunday before Palm Sunday a time of suffering, because during this week we will be looking forward to the events of Palm Sunday – of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he was surrounded by friends and supporters all cheering and celebrating wildly because they thought there were going to be released from the tyranny of the Roman occupation.  But, as we know, the true victory was not over the worldly oppressors, but the much greater victory over sin and death, and that victory was paid for with suffering. 

Suffering and joy, triumph and disaster, isolation and community, this mix of contradictions is what we live with on this earth. 

So to come back to the two readings – in both passages Jesus is affirmed by the voice of God, a voice that is also heard by people standing by.  Very few of us hear the word of God directly –  booming like thunder – , but we all can access God’s word through the reading of scripture and prayer… which brings us back to curiosity.

My challenge for you for the rest of Lent is to be curious about the word of God. When, or if,  you listen to a sermon…. , or a reading from scripture, or your bible reading notes, what word jumps out at you?  It may not be the word you feel you ought to be concentrating on.  But ponder on it, … maybe when you are in bed at night failing to drop off to sleep, or when you are lying in bed in the morning failing to get up.  Or when you are waiting in the pew after communion, glance at the passage and see what strikes you, what you may think of in a different way. 

Curiosity can lead to transformation, which is what our Christian life is about.  When we really listen to God’s words, when we ponder on them deep in our hearts,  then we can be transformed. 

Amen