5 Lent B – March 25, 2012 – Hope Behind Calvary
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,14-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
Yesterday was the anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero. He was assassinated while holding up the cup during Mass in a small chapel in San Salvador in 1980. Like today it was the fifth Sunday of Lent. In his homily that day he spoke of the violence and murders going on throughout the countryside. The church, he said, is the eternal pilgrim of history reflecting what is and what is not the reign of God. Archbishop Romero brought hope to people who were and still are powerless in Latin America.
About 2,639 years ago Jeremiah the prophet preached to the Israelites about a similar search for freedom in the midst of bloody wars and interminable exiles. Critical of the theology of a royal religion Jeremiah argued for honoring God’s covenant. Jeremiah tried to convince those with a tribal mentality that their God was also the God of all other human beings  even if they had different values and belief systems.
Jeremiah denounced the arrogance of religious leaders. Archbishop Romero espoused religious freedom and civic justice for all. Last Sunday the Rev. Dennis Terry, pastor of the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana, did the opposite and preached about Christian dominance in this country. He said, “I believe that Christians in America are the key to revival … the key to the economy turning around …. This nation was founded as a Christian nation … there’s only one God and his name is Jesus and if you do not agree, “Get out!”
This was not the message of Jeremiah or Oscar Romero. Such rhetoric is not uncommon these days when religious convictions are mixed in with political ones. The Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a prominent voice regarding the role of religion in a global democracy offers an opinion about that strategy. He wrote, “The use of god talk in American public life is often a lot less about religion and more about public policy.” 
How did Jesus go about influencing the religious and public spheres of life in his time? How do we do so today?
Lent is a time to re-engage with the life of Jesus, to get to know him better. It is also a time to rethink how our faith is lived out every day. Today’s gospel story sets the stage for our contemplation. Jesus just raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany and Jerusalem was his destiny. This gospel implies he had already arrived there. He knew that, because of his actions, his own life was in danger. Perhaps Oscar Romero felt the same as he courageously spoke out against corrupt governments. Jesus told the people who came to see, and perhaps wanted to believe in him, that something has to die before something else can live.
Jesus was forecasting and praying about the death he was about to accept in order to honor his covenant with God. He was asking for strength to endure it. We can understand what he was talking about. Seeds buried in the ground last fall are now beginning to burst forth in a colorful array of flowers.
Jeremiah, Jesus, Oscar Romero, were good examples of bringing hope to powerless people. They reminded their followers that transformation is a slow and often painful process. Whether it is losing weight or changing public policy or re-imagining the role of religion in society we know that change requires patience, cooperation, determination and conviction.
In his last homily Archbishop Romero also spoke about Lent. In so many words he said Lent is a call to celebrate redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. [The cross is not always about death. It can also be a symbol of victory.] Many preach about the cross, he said, but those who have faith know that behind the Calvary of suffering and death is Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of all Christian people. 
1 Spong, John Shelby. Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. (NY: HarperOne) 2011, 106
2 Uhuru Sekou, Osagyefo. Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy (Campbell and Cannon Press, 2012) See also, Hollenbach, David. The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights and Christian Ethics. (Washington DC: Georgetown Univ. Press) 2003
3 In Wright, Scott. “Archbishop Oscar Romero: Easter is Now the Cry of Victory!” http://www.sicsal-usa.org/2008/10/archbishop-oscar-romero-easter-is-now-the-cry-of-victory/