Fifth Sunday of Lent by Barbara Zeman

Homily Date

As I sat in the chapel this morning meditating on what the readings of the day held for me these questions surfaced.  Why can I not sit still and listen for your word, oh God?  Why do I constantly busy myself with distractions that take me away from your embrace?  Why can I not hear my own inner longing to be Loved as You Love?  … To be forgiven as You forgive?  To be willing to do Your will as only I can?  Why can I not just sit down and breathe in the silence and listen to the stillness that accepts all, nourishes all, completes all, begins and ends all?  Why can I not surrender as Jesus did? 

I see today as a day of remembering … a day in which we come to the beginning of the end as we walk this path to the cross with Jesus.  As the first reading tells us, God has written a new Covenant with humanity …  This covenant offers us forgiveness for our sins, offers us a signpost in the person of Jesus the Christ and embeds directions for the road home within our hearts.

On this day of remembering we are called to remember who we are: why we are here: and where we are going. In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, probably one of the most important letters in the New Testament, we remember both the humanness and Divinity of Jesus.  This letter establishes the Priesthood of Christ and Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  Jesus was the living sacrifice once and for ALL.  His fear, his tears, his ‘prayers for deliverance’ are all too real … too human.  They are the same prayers we pray as we face our own fate.  We are being shown, through Jesus tears, through his suffering, through his own humanity, how each of us must one day surrender all. 

In the words of St. Ignatius we hear our own surrender … Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it
all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.


From the beginning of time, each of God’s covenants takes us step by step, deeper into our own self awareness.  Each builds on the previous one until, at last, the New Covenant is revealed in the person of Jesus … the way, the truth and the life.


 As Jesus foretells the manner of his death in John’s Gospel he challenges us to let go of our own fears of death. 

Our bodies die all by themselves; they need no help. There is, however, another death which we must die and which doesn’t happen automatically, a death which is our responsibility. It is far more painful, with an agony far more protracted, than our physical death – it is the death we must choose to die – the death to self. Jesus shows us how to stop holding on to our preconceived notions of the world and empty ourselves.

He shows us how to die to ego, to self-will, to assertiveness, to power over others and, consequently, power over ourselves; to the need to control and dominate our future.

The cross IS the ultimate surrender. It is the clear, unambiguous image of this death - of this total, absolute powerlessness. As a friend once put it, ‘On the Cross there is no room to wiggle.’ And surely, this is why we avoid it; it is a call to do what is so difficult for us – to give up our ambition of being God.

From his Cross Jesus seems to say: If one is to serve me, that one must follow me; wherever I am, my servant will be there too. The cross is an invitation to become like the Master, who is our true Life.

In the beautiful song THE ROSE Bette Midler sings ‘It's the one who won't be taking, who never learns to give. It’s the one afraid of dying who never learns to live.’ Jesus was never afraid of dying – he threw himself to the ground many times throughout his life and finally, of his own will, entered the darkness of the tomb. We must all choose to do this for ourselves, no one can do it for us; it’s our responsibility, we must choose to follow. There are no spectator disciples, no part-time Christmas-Easter disciples. There can be no dabbling in discipleship.

Of course, the Christian mystery of it all is that in dying to self we find new life. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.

Finally, let’s get practical. How do we die this death to self on the Cross, how do we begin to live for Christ? The struggle with self begins the very instant we begin to listen to the murmurings of our heart … the clean-pure heart that we have prayed for in the Psalms. This prayer is a prayer of freedom. And not surprisingly its first consequence is a discovery of the chains which hold us back; not a pleasant experience.

            Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ first disciples as they hear him tell them that they must lose their lives … to follow in Jesus footsteps… to become his servants and gain eternal life.  Who is this man?  Where is he coming from? And where is he taking us?

            So, I guess it isn’t so surprising that I was finding it difficult to sit still and listen to God’s message this morning. Not many of us are ready for total surrender … for death to the self, NOW.  Our worldly attachments are too dear to us.  And, until we are literally stripped we have very little incentive to discover just how addicted we are to the world … whether it be to power, money, food, clothing or love.

            Last night, just before I went to bed I thought of how much my life has changed in the past year.  As I looked around I saw the shell of a life I no longer live … an empty house, oh the furniture was still there, but it held no import,  I prayed that I could once again feel loved … not alone and tears weld up in my eyes.   When I awakened this morning and went to my computer I found a message from a friend.  He was thanking me for putting together a tabernacle dedication and blessing this past Friday at NMH. His exact words were:

I want you to know how thrilled I was to be acknowledged at the tabernacle dedication service.  You made Friday a very special day for me. Thank you.  


I was honored when you asked me to meet with Pastor Edith and I loved the process of designing and bringing to life the tabernacle.  Having a chance to share the process with those at the dedication was neat.  I hope the tabernacle will have meaning for those at Northwestern Memorial for many years to come.  


I love you Barbara and I treasure our friendship.


Didn’t take long for God to answer my prayer, did it?

So what am I afraid of as I pace the chapel?  Why can I not sit still?  Maybe it’s that I know somewhere deep inside my heart that God IS here ready to speak to me.  Ready to hold me accountable… Ready to Love me as I’ve never been loved before and I am not ready to receive.

            Over the next few days, I’d like all of us to think about how ready we are to receive God’s word.  How uncomfortable we are with letting go and how willing we are to detach ourselves from our wordly goods replacing them with unknown treasures that God has in store.


In this community, let us explore ways to become more open to hearing God’s word in the silence of the moment.  Take time to listen to one another and - between the words - notice the message God wants us to hear.  The New Covenant that God brought forth in Jesus is written on our hearts.  Explore it deeply and become familiar with your true Spirit, your Divine nature.  Our connection to God is within each encounter we have.  Christ promises to be present with us when we gather for prayer. Make every encounter a prayer.  In the Eucharist that we experience let us realize that our God given gifts are the gifts are the gifts we give back with our very lives. 

We chose to live out our faith in this community because it is the truth of who we are … envision it in a new light … a light of love and peace as the cross stands before us.

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