5th Sunday Lent Year B 2009
Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

“I will draw everyone to myself.”  John 12:32

        In English, when we put “2 + 2” together, we say, “I made the connection.”  It is a very similar to saying, “I connected the dots.”  When we put two things together, we see that they fit together.  They are not in fact two separate things but one.  In the language of the New Testament, Greek, the word “symbol” means roughly the same thing (Greek verb:  συμβάλλειν). 

        The word “symbol” comes from the word in Greek that means to place together.  In one of its forms, this refers to the ancient custom of taking two halves of a broken coin, called “symbols”, and placing them together to establish the identity of each person holding the different half.  A king might send an ambassador with a “symbol”, one half of a broken object, and when the ambassador entered the court of the foreign king, he would make the connection and establish his identity by fitting his half to the other half to indicate he was who he said he was.  Therefore, the “symbol” established the truth.  The connection was made.  The truth was revealed in the repair of the broken halves. 

        In Jeremiah we read, “…they broke my covenant….  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.  I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:32-33).  The two symbols will be joined in the new covenant.  In former times, the covenant between God and His People was broken by the infidelity of the People.  There will come a time when the two, God and People, will be joined in an unbreakable covenant.  The “law” will be in their hearts. 

        The mystery of Christian faith is a connection.  Have you ever noticed what takes place just before communion after we recite the Our Father?  The priest holds the host over the chalice and breaks it in half.  Then, he places a particle of the host into the chalice.  Remember our word symbol.  The breaking of the bread is symbolic, in other words it means what is symbolizes.  Jesus was broken at Calvary.  He died.  But the particle of the host is placed in the chalice, reuniting the Body and the Blood, as a sign of rebirth, new life, the Resurrection.  Christ is broken, but He lives.

        This message of brokenness is mentioned in the Gospel this Sunday.  “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” (John 12:24).  The friendship between God and Man has been broken through sin.  Now, Jesus gives us a pledge of reunification.  The symbol of this is the brokenness of His own Body and Blood.  Here the grain of wheat has fallen to the ground and died, but in doing so it has born much fruit.  That is the Resurrection, the connection that gives life.

        Most marvelous of all, unlike other signs that can lose their significance, here today and gone tomorrow, the living sign of Jesus’ Body and Blood is what it signifies.  Our friendship is restored.  We are made one in Christ.  The two objects are reunited.  We are made whole again.  The Eucharist becomes the living celebration of this wholeness.  “This is the new covenant in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25), Jesus will say, as recorded in the Gospels and the writing of St. Paul.  I like the beautiful commentary of the Letter to the Hebrews on this subject.  It answers the question about what we approach when we come to the Eucharist as the new covenant in Christ’s blood.  “You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). 

        As Holy Week approaches, more than ever, we want to be one with Christ in His life-saving passion, death, and resurrection.  Once strangers, we enter into friendship with Him.  That friendship has been strained at times by sin.  Now is the time of healing and being united again.  It is time for the brokenness to be healed, for the two halves to be joined, and for death to be turned into life.  This is the mystery of the Eucharist and Easter.  It is the mystery that lives in us, the grain of wheat that has died to produce abundant life.