We are nearing the culmination of Lent. Today we turn a corner in the season. The prayers heard at Mass now turn more towards the Passion. We ask the Father to help us be like Christ who “loved the world and died for our salvation.” The alternative opening prayer mentions that the “love of your Son led him to accept the suffering of the cross.” For parishes that have people preparing for Baptism, a Third Scrutiny is celebrated.
Today’s readings inspire us to continue with our Lenten disciplines and prepare us for the celebration of Passion Sunday and Holy Week. Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant that God will make with his people. It will be written in their hearts, hearts so attuned to God that they choose what God wills and turn away whatever would lead them away from God.
The Gospel gives us an example of one who has such a heart, Jesus of Nazareth. He is faced with a choice — will he follow what God wants of him, even though it may mean suffering and death, or will he ask the Father to “save him from this hour”? If he does the former, God will be glorified. If he does not follow through he is saved from suffering but does not accomplish what he came to do. He tells Philip and Andrew, “I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
In that one sentence is an explanation of our most central belief — the Paschal Mystery. This is what we gather to remember, celebrate and thank God for when we pray at liturgy. Put simply, it means that Jesus suffered, died and rose from the dead. And all our deaths are caught up with Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that we too receive new life.
The elements used for Eucharist, bread and wine, are images of the Paschal Mystery. A grain of wheat is planted (falls to the earth and dies) and rises up from the ground as something new — a stalk of wheat which bears many kernels (resurrection). The wheat is mown down as it is harvested, crushed and ground to make flour (death) so that it can be fashioned into bread which will nourish people (resurrection.) The grapes are crushed so that the wine may be made (death). The juice of many grapes is fermented and becomes one drink which gives joy and refreshes our thirst (resurrection).
When we say “Amen” before we receive Communion we mean not only that we believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. We also agree to become more closely united with Christ and one another. We agree to be Christ’s presence in the world ,which nourishes others. We give our assent to being bread for the world, broken and shared, poured out in self-sacrifice for the good of others.
But we must be willing to “die,” to turn away from behavior that tears down or hurts others; to turn away from self-centeredness which is so natural to us all. Not an easy choice.
Johnston, director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc, teaches a class on liturgy and prayer for the diocesan Commissioned Ministry Program.