March 21, 2021
Revised Common Lectionary
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15 (12a)
During this time of pandemic many of us have nearly forgotten the rush that often accompanies holiday celebrations—gathering to hear concerts or watch fireworks on the Fourth of July or traveling at Thanksgiving or Christmas to be with family.
Holiday excitement is part of the backdrop in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and his disciples have made their way to Jerusalem for Passover—the third such pilgrimage in the Gospel of John—and the word about Jesus has clearly gotten around. After raising his friend Lazarus back to life after four days in the tomb, he had entered the Holy City to the acclaim of the crowds even as the religious authorities were plotting to kill him. In the hustle and bustle of a city flooded with pilgrims, some Greek visitors approach Philip with a simple request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).
When Philip and Andrew relay this request to Jesus, he responds in a way that suggests that the time for casual conversation had passed: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). The excitement of holiday activities must now give way to the mission for which he had been sent and into which he was inviting his followers. His hour had come and soon he would be “lifted up” on the cross. Just as Jesus would be “glorified” in his death, so too would his followers find eternal life by risking the loss of their own lives.
The three Synoptic Gospels recount a voice from heaven at both the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus, but in John the voice is heard only here, in the midst of the crowd at this crucial moment. Jesus declares and God’s voice affirms that his hour had come at last—the time for the death by which he would glorify God and God would glorify him. The death of Jesus is not an act of appeasement to satisfy an angry, vengeful deity, but rather is his glorification. On the cross he is exalted, “lifted up” to declare God’s judgment, to drive out “the ruler of this world” (12:31), and to draw all people to himself (12:32).
As we approach the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter, today’s Gospel once again proclaims the overflowing love of God that is revealed as Jesus is lifted up on the cross. His death has opened the way to life for all people without distinction. As he is glorified, he declares judgment on powers that diminish life—political leaders who favor the rich over the poor, religious authorities who protect institutional privilege at the expense of victims, social structures that support discrimination or exclusion.
The Good News of Christ’s glorification on the cross is accompanied by the call to follow him on the same path. As it was for him, that choice can be costly. We may fear losing too much if we let go of—or even own up to—our privilege, if we seek forgiveness or extend it to someone with whom we are alienated, if we place the good of another above our own convenience. In today’s Gospel Jesus sets before us the paradox that the only path to life is through death: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (12:25).
A Hymn for Today: “O God, Who Gives Us Life and Breath”
On each Sunday of Lent, the Lectionary selections from the Hebrew Scriptures present God’s faithful covenant love throughout the history of the chosen people. Today’s reading, Jeremiah 31:31-34, perhaps the best known and most important passage in that entire book, proclaims a new covenant that God will write on people’s hearts. This text from Jeremiah provides part of the basis for this hymn by Carl P. Daw, Jr., FHS.
O God who gives us life and breath,
who shapes us in the womb,
who guards our lives from birth to death,
then leads us from the tomb:
deliver us from fears that kill
the life we have from you.
Help us to know your Spirit still
is making all things new.
O God, who calls your people out
to venture and to dare,
to plumb the bleak abyss of doubt
and find you even there:
when we despair in wandering
through wastes of empty lies,
refresh us with the living spring
of hope that never dies.
O God of covenant and law,
revealed in cloud and flame,
your mighty deeds evoke our awe;
we dare not speak your name.
Yet we by faith are drawn to you
and will your people prove,
as on our hearts you write anew
the covenant of love.
Text: Carl P. Daw, Jr., 1990. © 1990, Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tunes: IN NOMINE DEI, NOEL, GRACIOUS GIFT (Shively)
Image Credit: Trinity Church, Boston – Cross, 1877
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.