On The Parchment Of Our Heart
On The Parchment Of Our Heart
A Sermon for April 6th, 2003, Year B, Lent 5
By The Rev. Philip R. Taylor, Deacon
Free Episcopal Church
Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:1-10; John 12:20-33
31/ ‘Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), 32 but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, even though I was their Master, Yahweh declares. 33 No, this is the covenant I shall make with the House of Israel when those days have come, Yahweh declares. Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I shall be their God and they will be my people. 34 There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, “Learn to know Yahweh!” No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind.’ /
When I was a small child about 8 or 9 years old, I remember proudly giving up ‘sweets’ one year for Lent. It was my first attempt at such a demanding Lenten discipline and as I recall my last. Sweets for me were like cigarettes to a chain smoker. I couldn’t wait for Lent to be over. And by the time the fifth Sunday of Lent arrived I was fully consumed by my craving for a candy bar or a piece of my mother’s wonderful apple pie.
Also I remember being very angry on the Monday after Lent 5 when one of my Catholic classmates told me that Lent didn’t include Sundays and that he had relaxed his Lenten discipline for 5 whole Sundays when I, the perfect little Episcopalian, had ‘gone without’. So the fifth Sunday of Lent has always been special to me. Lent is almost over! Hurray! No alleluias, just hurray!
I’m 50 years or more past that Lent, I still crave sweets, and I have never again been so bold as to give them up for Lent. However, I must confess that I still rejoice at finally reaching Lent 5. As I fretted over the lessons for this Sunday, I began to realize that there were other reasons to shout, Hurray! Other than the fact that Lent was almost over.
Jeremiah tells us in this wonderful passage from the 31st chapter that God is going to give us a new covenant, and write it on our hearts. We, who have broken covenant with God, will experience a sweet beyond our imaginings and cravings. God’s response to our brokenness will be to come even closer to us, to get personal, to take the holy pen and to write a new agreement with us on the very parchment of our heart, Hurray!
This covenant, Jeremiah tells us, will still be an agreement of love even a divine relationship but it will be personal, intimate, and for the least among us. It will no longer be an agreement written on stone and carried around in an ark. It will be an agreement written on the flesh of our heart and carried around in the holy temple of our body, Hurray!
Jeremiah also tells us about how God wants to deal with our brokenness and our sinfulness. As I read the final words of verse 34 in the Jeremiah lesson, I thought of this story that I had read many years ago from Paul J. Wharton’s book, Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers:
From the Middle Ages comes this legend
about a nun who claimed that she had had a vision of Christ.
The bishop asked, "Sister, did you talk to him?"
And she said, "Yes, I did."
He continued, "If you have another vision, ask Christ this question:
What was the bishop's great sin before he became a bishop?' "
He knew that only God and his own confessor would know.
About three months later, the nun made an appointment to see the bishop.
When she came in, he said, "Did you see our Lord again?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Did you ask him the question about my sin?"
"Yes, I did."
"And what did he say?"
She smiled and answered,
'The Lord said, 'I don't remember anymore.' "
Beloved, I believe this is how Jeremiah wants us to understand God’s forgiveness, as a God who doesn’t even remember our sin. Hurray!
As I near the end of my own Lenten discipline I have started to reflect on how this Lent began. For many of us it began with the ashes of last year’s palms smeared on our foreheads by a priest or pastor at the Ash Wednesday Service. The journey inward that we began so many weeks ago is almost over. Some of us hopefully have learned a bit more about ourselves and about the God who has created us.
Here and now, on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, Jeremiah reminds me and all of us that it is possible to find something new and special every Lent as we journey inward, a new covenant written by a divine and forgiving God on the parchment of our heart.
Hurray and Amen!
The New Jerusalem Bible. 1995, c1985. Includes indexes. Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y.