Reflection for March 17, 2024, Fifth Sunday of Lent

Jer 31:31-34

Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15

Heb 5:7-9

Jn 12:20-33

Whatever else we may be thinking about in these last days of Lent, the readings for this fifth Sunday make it clear: Something's coming.

You can't help but feel that the winds are shifting.

The reading from Jeremiah promises, "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel."

The letter to the Hebrews describes Christ's "prayers and supplications ... to the one who was able to save him from death."

And in the Gospel from John, we find words of unmistakable foreboding, even dread. "The hour has come," Jesus says. "I am troubled now ... but it was for this purpose that I came to this hour."

We know, of course, where this is leading: to palms and hosannas, washed feet and broken bread, betrayal and suffering and heart-rending, unavoidable tragedy.

The "something" that's coming is Calvary.

We can only imagine what Christ was thinking as he scanned the skies and marked the days and braced himself for what was about to happen.

But what about us? Where have these days taken us? And what have we taken from them? Are we changed?

We've been expecting this for weeks. But now this is a moment for taking stock. Lent has been about that, really -- it's a season for penance and prayer, letting go and looking within. But these last days before the week we call "holy" are a good time for reflecting more prayerfully on where we have been and where we need to be.

We started this journey with ashes on our brows and "Be merciful, O Lord" on our lips. We skipped desserts and slipped money in the poor box and showed up on Friday nights to follow the Way of the Cross and sing the Stabat Mater. Maybe we ran our fingers over the dry, empty fonts and saw again and again the purple vestments at Mass and were reminded that this is no ordinary time. If we were paying attention, we felt a holy longing, the strange absence of familiar things. It was as close as we could get to spending time in the desert.

It's worth asking ourselves: What has this time taught us? Are we seeing the world differently?

Are we engaging more deeply in conversations with the Lord, in prayer and meditation and reflection and sacred silence?

Are we giving ourselves to others more generously and joyfully? Are we striving more purposefully to see Christ in the stranger -- and to be Christ to those in need?

It's not easy. I know. We all have lives, families, jobs, obligations, responsibilities, deadlines. We try to be holier, to seek opportunities to be the saints we think we can become, but the world keeps intruding. Let's face it: Nobody does Lent perfectly.

But we need to keep trying.

And we need to look beyond the hill to be climbed, to the miracle that comes after. The very word "Lent" comes from an ancient Middle English word meaning "springtime." This is a time for renewal and growth.

Jesus understood as much. Even facing his own death, Jesus offered this resolute hope: "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."

Maybe we don't realize it, but each of us is part of that harvest. We are the fruit of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection -- the Christian faithful who, all these generations later, continue to spread his Good News, in ways large and small. Lent should help deepen our awareness of that extraordinary fact -- and help us understand more deeply what was given for us, and what we have to give to others.

Yes, something's coming.

Are we ready?

- Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog, "The Deacon's Bench."