5th Sunday of Lent B

I cannot remember if I ever mentioned it to you, but I was in the Holy Land in January.  One place I have not talked about though is a lovely church about half way down the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem called Dominus Flevit, or “The Lord Wept.”  It commemorates the spot of Jesus’ famous lament for the city. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings.”  And the remarkable thing about that spot is that if you extend your arms like a hen would spread her wings to gather her young, from that perspective, your arms would encompass the entire walled city of Jerusalem.

And that is exactly what Jesus came to do. To gather us.  To make us one.  To save us.  The compassion he shows to the city of Jerusalem, the very home of God for the Jews, is extended to the whole world.  His burning desire to save resounds in these charged words; the cry of a protective mother hen for her children.

And there is but one way to do it.  It is to give everything because there is no love without sacrifice.  Or as Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  That grain, fully alive when attached to the stalk cannot produce new life unless it first falls, is buried and becomes the seed that opens and gives itself up to produce something new.  For this revolution of love to occur, Jesus must surrender life to bring us new life.  He must die.

Yet it should come as no surprise that dying to one’s self is how life and love begins.  Most of us will not be called to actual martyrdom, but we should never forget that today some will pay the ultimate price for putting others first.  It may be a woman struggling to reach a refugee camp with her family or someone professing their faith in Christ Jesus.  That most likely will not be our story.  But we are not unfamiliar with dying to self.  We do it all the time.  When you marry, you die to yourself, giving up independence and seeing your life as a partnership, not even deciding what to watch on television by yourself #I don’t know how you people do it!  When you bring forth new life in a child, you die to yourself, inevitably placing the welfare of your child above your own.  You have died to self if you have a best friend and you spend time you don’t have listening to them.  How many die to themselves by taking care of an elderly parent, a sick child, someone with Alzheimer’s?  We die to ourselves when the rights of a stranger matter to us although we live in different worlds. This is the definition of love and its force.

All that you treasure, all that makes life worth living is borne of the sacrifices others have made for us and we make for others.  It is not money or naked power that makes the world go round.  It is life giving, sacrificial love that has transformed and changed our lives.

If that is what our love can do, if that is what our flailing imperfect love has done for us, then imagine what perfect love is capable of.  To picture this, let me take you to another hill across the Kidron Valley, one called Golgotha, the place of Skulls.  One more time Jesus extends his arms, no longer meant for Jerusalem, but for the whole world.  The seed has fallen and is about to die.  Forgiveness, redemption, salvation is about to be born.  “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  We are enfolded within the extension of those arms.  How can we doubt that we are loved, cherished and precious?

If we are to imitate our Lord, let us die to self to live for others.  After all, whoever seeks to save their life, refusing to take risks, to sacrifice, will lose it and whoever surrenders their life, placing others before them, knowing what it means to love, will save it.