5th Sunday of Lent (b) 2018
At the beginning of Lent you remember Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and forty nights. He’s now been in the desert a long time 32 days by my calculation. The desert is an awful place; nothing grows there; it’s suffocatingly hot by day and freezing by night. I remember sleeping one night in the Sinai desert; I was never so cold in my life. And that was just one night! Jesus spent forty nights there. The desert is also a lonely place, especially if you are, like Jesus, on your own. So much time to yourself; time to think; to look back over your life. What was Christ thinking as he passed the days and nights in such solitude? St Paul tells us, revealingly, that ‘Christ offered up prayer and entreaty aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had power to save him out of death’. I am struck by those words, ‘silent tears’? It is a terrible sight to see a grown man cry. Why was he crying? Paul would seem to suggest he was afraid: he offered up prayer and entreaty, said St Paul, to the one who had power to save him out of death.’ Was he afraid of dying? Was this why he crying?
When I read those words, ‘silent tears’ they always move me. I hate to see anyone cry, but this isn’t just anyone, this is our Lord Jesus Christ. And here he is doing something that surely all of us do sometimes. Here we see Christ with tears pouring down his cheeks; his eyes raised to heaven, pleading with his father to help him. This isn’t the garden of gethsemane; no, this is a long time before that. I wonder what was it that brought him to tears? If he was fully human, as the Church teaches, then maybe it was the thought of death. He knew he had to be strong for what was about to happen, and yet in the desert, all alone and weak from fasting, he probably felt vulnerable and anything but strong. None of this was easy for him.
In the gospel Jesus tells his listeners, “unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest”. Clearly the thought of death is not far from his mind. But notice how he doesn’t see it as total disaster, as the end of everything. Rather, incredibly, he implies that his death is necessary; that by his death there will come a rich harvest. Think about that: he wasn’t doing this for himself, but for us. This cruel death which he fully expected was to happen, he could have avoided. He is in a desert, after all; no one else around; no one would have spotted him if he slipped off somewhere else. But he didn’t. After this time in the desert he was ready for what ever was to come. And he knew it would be difficult but he was ready and willing. And all this for us.
We don’t have to go into the desert, but we can remember him who did. We can thank him for what he is about to do for us. In the next couple of weeks we will see exactly what did happen; the pain, the betrayal, the scourging, the mocking, and then finally a slow cruel and painful death. It’s not easy to think about this, who would normally want to. And yet this is what the church is asking us to do; to accompany him as he prepare for his passion. Remember it was something he knew would happen; back in the desert he had thought about this. And we know he was moved to tears. So why shouldn’t we be: he went through all this for us, the least we can do is acknowledge that.
He did it for love of us; each and everyone of us. He loved us, he loves us, in spite of our faults and failings and even our sinfulness. He pleads with us today as he did to those who heard him two thousand years ago: “turn away from sin, and believe the gospel”!