The 5th Sunday In Lent
Holy Eucharist, Rite II
March 21, 2021
The Celebrant and LEM stand, maintaining physical distance. There is no procession.
Celebrant: Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
LEM: The mercy of the Lord endures forever.
Celebrant: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Celebrant: Lord have mercy.
LEM: Christ have mercy.
Celebrant: Lord have mercy
Opening Hymn: Wilt Thou Forgive The Hymnal 1982, #140
Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun,
which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run,
and do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
for I have more.
Wilt thou forgive that sin, by which I won
others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
a year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
for I have more.
The Collect of the Day
Celebrant: The Lord be with you,
LEM: And also with you.
Celebrant: Let us pray.
The Celebrant says the Collect.
Lord of the new covenant, in Christ you draw all people to yourself: may we die with him to the power of hate and let him show to us the world as you love it and made it to be, through Jesus Christ, the teacher, the healer, and the forgiver of sins. Amen.
The Old Testament Lesson Jeremiah 31:31-34
31The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
LEM: The Word of the Lord.
Celebrant: Thanks be to God.
Psalm of the Day: Psalm 51:1-12
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
and in your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
5Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner from my mother’s womb.
6You desire truth in my heart; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
The New Testament Lesson: Hebrews 5:5-10
5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
LEM: The Word of the Lord.
Celebrant: Thanks be to God.
Gradual Hymn: Forty Days and Forty Nights The Hymnal 1982, #150
Forty days and forty nights thou wast fasting in the wild;
forty days and forty nights tempted, and yet undefiled.
Should not we thy sorrow share and from worldly joys abstain,
fasting with unceasing prayer, strong with thee to suffer pain?
Then if Satan on us press, Jesus Savior, hear our call:
Victor in the wilderness, grant we may not faint nor fall.
So shall we have peace divine: holier gladness ours shall be;
round us, too, shall angels shine, such as ministered to thee.
Keep, O keep us, Savior dear, ever constant by thy side;
that with thee we may appear at th’eternal Eastertide.
The Gospel: John 12:20-33
Then, all standing, the Deacon or a Priest reads the Gospel, first saying
Celebrant: The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.
LEM: Glory to you, Lord Christ.
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Priest: The Gospel of the Lord.
LEM: Praise to you, Lord Christ.
The Sermon: Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls
(The printed sermon text may differ from the spoken sermon)
Let’s have that one more time: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Ever since I’m a child, I hear this verse and believe it. Seeds are buried to die and be reborn, just as Jesus will be once the rope, nails, cross, and thorn-crown of Good Friday have done their worst. All of this means that everything that grows with leaves upon the earth, every plant bearing seed of its kind that the Lord made and saw was good, is a sign and a symbol of the resurrection at the heart of our faith. Life itself becomes a metaphor for that which restores life and renews it – and therein lies a paradox. All deaths are final, but some deaths bring life. In fact, all deaths do, in the cycle of life – and the death of the very stars themselves at once create and release far and wide the stuff from which life can, in the mysterious providence of God, make itself again and again and again.
Except that a grain of wheat doesn’t die; nor does any other seed. It transforms itself because of the genes and stuff that live within it, and in so doing makes another plant grow. A grain of wheat only dies, say, when ground into flour and then baked into bread. In that form it, like the yeast used to make it rise, can no longer grow in and of itself, but can only make other things grow, be they molds or men. It might even feed the one who had the power to decide from among the wheat grains which should survive to germinate and make more of their kind, and which should die to become breads, cakes, or pies, so that others might live.
By extension, then, the Parable of the Grain of Wheat should mean that those who live but are transformed can make themselves, but only themselves, grow again, whereas those who die and are processed correctly can help others grow instead of themselves. Those who will transform their lives will renew themselves, whereas those who give up their lives have a chance to make others live.
This resonates, yet not completely, with what John has Jesus say next, “Those who love their life lose it, but those who hate their life in this world will keep it…” (Jn. 12:25).
Ever since I’m a child, I hear this verse and believe it. We are not made for this world, but for another. We are here as strangers, as sojourners, meant to live between one darkness and another either perfecting ourselves or admitting that we can’t. We are to store up treasures not on earth, but in heaven, and see in the time to come, the undiscovered country from which no traveler returns, our true and lasting home. Until then, life’s meaning is summed up as, in St. Augustine’s words, “Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee,” meaning the Lord. When we’ve become as one with God as we can in this world, in this flesh, under the rubrics of space and time and entropy, God will transform us into whatever-comes-next, elsewhere and elsewise. We are in this world but not of it, Jesus says elsewhere, which ever since I’m a child has made sense to me, or so I thought.
But that I should hate my life? I do not. I mean, I hate my shape, my tendency to sloth, most of my needs, and the fact that I’ve never been able to touch my toes while keeping my legs straight. (I have a doctor’s note from when I’m in school testifying that I don’t have to, by the way. It’s framed, and hangs alongside my diplomas, as my first real accomplishment.) Various things that live, from carrots to cows, have to die so that I might keep on keeping on. Even if I were to learn to live as do those who do not consume things with faces, there’d still be a slaughter of beets and kale, of wheat and tomatoes, basil and garlic, oregano and mushrooms, pumpkins and potatoes, that these bones might live, as Ezekiel says, that these bones might live. So I, clearly, do not hate my life, though there are days…
One of my most engaging lessons with my English composition students is a variation on the famous Lifeboat Problem. That’s the ethical conundrum lived out on the Titanic, and elsewhere, in which there are not enough lifeboats for all who need them, since the ship is made of iron and will sink if pierced. So who gets one of the too-few seats available? Who gets to decide? It’s a challenging set of questions to answer, and quite self-revealing. If you want to know what you really believe and really stand for, ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly. My students’ answers range from being willing to do anything, and kill anyone they have to, to get a seat and avoid death on the wine-dark sea, to voluntarily giving their seat up so that someone they deemed worthier than they to abide still longer beneath the innumerable and indifferent stars and the intolerable silence of the sky.
None of these students hates their lives or anyone else’s – yet some are more willing than others to die so that others might live. Many think they know what they’d do if faced with this situation. The wisest realize that they don’t, not really. One can’t until one sees it up close, feels she iron ship twist and sink beneath one, smells the cold salt sea rising, realizes that this is it. Many of us will not see tomorrow. Who, then, should? Should I? Would my answers even matter when death is on the line?
I did not realize, and nor did the preachers of my youth, that Jesus in John is wrestling with just this sort of thing in this passage, “Those who love their life lose it, but those who hate their life will keep it.” He says this as he wrestles with what would be the hardest questions his followers would have to face and explain: why did Jesus, the savior of the world, have to die? Why did he choose to die – since he had angels at his beck and call and the power of truth in his voice, not to mention command. He could’ve lived. He could make anyone do anything. Yet he chooses to die. Why?
See, Jesus knows from the very beginning, in John’s gospel, that he’s here on a particular mission, and has been given great power, and the fullness of life itself, with which to complete it. Over the course of his time preaching, teaching, healing, pronouncing salvation, making water into wine, and overturning a moneygrubber’s table here and here, he gradually realizes, as has been said of another, that the quest will take his life. Part of him understands why. Yet I’m not sure that his heart does, or can. Could you? Could I? Could anyone? The passage we heard from Hebrews fairly shouts it out: he prayed like he’d never prayed before to be spared this death, perhaps any death, but was for that reason and in the midst of his obedience to it made a priest in the order of Melchizedek, king of Salem – that is, king of righteousness and king of peace, suffering until it made him perfect, and thereby able to save. Save whom? Everyone. From what? Whatever dominates and controls us that we did not choose and do not want. How? By showing us how to live as though they do not matter.
At the heart of this passage from John, I think, is Jesus projecting onto others something he has to accept in himself: that to drive the ruler of this world out of this world, he, Jesus, has to give up his life, surrender his body and his mind, leave for the grave all that he is, to the worst of humanity, and let them raise him up high so that they can watch him die.
Whether or not to get in a lifeboat is one thing. Whether to jump on a grenade is another. What Jesus faced is different than both. It is an even greater sacrifice than the one every martyr faces who knows they’re going to be a martyr. Not only must the cause for which one gives one’s life be moral, and one’s sacrifice in its service be both productive and inevitable. Not only must one willingly take a series of steps, meditate upon them, and walk them one by one. Every martyr does this; Jesus must do more. To accept his death-by-execution, Jesus must accept all that it entails, including the realization that others will follow him in it, die for the faith his death inaugurates, accept the ending of the lives as the price of following him with integrity, to whatever end.
He also has to accept knowing that he will not know if it works when he dies. He has to accept that his Father in heaven, a form or way of being that is one with himself, will abandon and forsake him as he dies and leave him, for three days or perhaps forever, to rot. What if it is forever? There’s nothing Jesus could do about it then, nothing he could do to avoid the void, if that’s what it turns out death really means. Like the seed as he imagines it, he must be willing to die – period. What comes next cannot, by definition, be up to him.
“The meaning of human life,” Philip Roth famously said, “Is that it ends.” You’ve heard me say that before. You’ll hear me say it again. Why? Because it’s true, as far as it goes. Accepting that it is true – and we really have to accept things that are true, whether we like them or not – accepting that it is true frees us from illusions. One such illusion that we have forever to do whatever; we do not. Another such illusion is that we can be satisfied with this; we cannot. We can make our peace with it, accept that we cannot change it, even believe that we would welcome a good and peaceful death, having lived to see our children’s children’s children and being able to rest in peace forever in the knowledge that the world will be better off with them in it. But we cannot be satisfied with it. Something in the power that gives us memory, reason, and skill, all that life is and can be, makes us restless with the burden of mortality.
The meaning of human life, we might update the saying to say, is that it ends even though it doesn’t want to. Why? Because it is not finished – the world is not finished, and it never will be. Why? Because it is not complete without all of us – and all that we make to outlast us. Will we be, or are we, in the mind and the providence of God? We cannot know. All we can know is that we have life, and that the same one that told us that we must hate it or lose it also told us that we are to have it in abundance? What does all that add up to? The best I can do is this: do all the good you can, and make things and people as beautiful as you can, as noble and fine and happy and fulfilled as you can, leaving the world and the things in it better than they would’ve been without you. Justify your existence, as the Calvinists used to say, by making sure that whatever or whoever died so that you might be did not die in vain. Make the world wonderful while you can. No-one can do it like you; no-one can do it for you. It will be enough. Amen.
There is no passing of plates or reception of gifts.
The Deacon or Priest prepares the altar and sanctuary for the Eucharist.
The People make ready their gifts of bread and wine. The LEM continues
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Prayers of the People
The LEM prays. In the silence after each bidding, the People offer their prayers without speaking.
I ask your prayers for all God’s people; for our bishops, our clergy, and this gathering, and for all ministers and people. Pray for the Church.
I ask your prayers for peace; for goodwill among nations; and for the well-being of all. Pray for justice and peace.
I ask your prayers for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, and those in prison.
Pray for those in any need or trouble.
I ask your prayers for all who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of God.
Pray that they may seek, and pray that they might find.
I ask your prayers for the departed [especially N.N.]. Pray for those who have died.
I ask your prayers for those on the prayer list of this parish, and those whose needs are known to you alone.
The Celebrant adds a concluding collect.
The People stand.
Celebrant: The peace of the Lord be always with you,
LEM: And also with you.
The Ministers and People greet one another in silence while keeping physical distance.
The Holy Eucharist: The Great Thanksgiving
Celebrant: The Lord be with you,
LEM: And also with you.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
LEM: We lift them to the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
LEM: It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Then, facing the Holy Table, the Celebrant proceeds
God of might and compassion, Lord of all that is, unto you be glory and praise..
LEM: Glory to you for ever and ever.
By your word all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, stars, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
LEM: By your will they were created and have their being.
From water, earth, and sky you brought us into being, blessing us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us masters of creation, and creators in our turn. But we abused your trust, misused your gifts, turned against one another, and wandered far from you.
LEM: Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.
Time after time, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous will, and wrote your law upon our hearts – to no avail. Then, in the fullness of time, you sent your only begotten Son, of woman born, to open to us the way of life and salvation, the way of freedom and peace.
LEM: By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds, we are healed.
And by him we praise you, joining with the heavenly host, with prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with all who have looked to you in hope, to proclaim your glory:
The LEM continues
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
The Celebrant continues
And now, Father, we who have been redeemed by him and made a new people by water and the Spirit, bring before you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Celebrant and People hold the elements in their various vessels. The Celebrant continues
On the night he was betrayed, he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his friends, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.”
After supper, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in memory of me.”
Remembering his work of redemption, and offering this sacrifice of thanksgiving:
LEM: We celebrate his death and resurrection as we await his coming.
The Celebrant continues
Lord God of our Fathers and Mothers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
LEM: Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.
Accept these prayers and praises, O Lord, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and worship, from generation to generation. AMEN.
Now, as Christ taught us, we are bold to say,
The LEM prays
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The Breaking of the Bread
The Celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread, and then keeps a period of silence. The Celebrant continues
Celebrant: Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
LEM: Therefore, let us keep the feast.
Celebrant: The Gifts of God for the People of God.
The People consume their gifts. After Communion, the Celebrant says
Let us pray. The Celebrant prays
Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Blessing and Dismissal
The Celebrant says
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord be with you, this day and always, and give you peace.
The LEM says
Let us go forth, in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
Withdrawal Hymn: Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus The Hymnal 1982, #495
Hail, thou once despiséd Jesus!
Hail, thou Galilean King!
Thou didst suffer to release us;
thou didst free salvation bring.
Hail, thou universal Savior,
bearer of our sin and shame!
By thy merit we find favor:
life is given through thy Name
Paschal Lamb, by God appointed,
all our sins on thee were laid:
by almighty love anointed,
thou hast full atonement made.
All thy people are forgiven
through the virtue of thy blood:
opened is the gate of heaven,
reconciled are we with God.
The Celebrant, the LEM, and the People depart, maintaining physical distance.
We hope that today’s service has been a blessing to you.
We are here to serve you, and hope to see you again.
Please feel free to call us, email us, or visit us online.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Fairland, MD
12621 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904
firstname.lastname@example.org * 301-622-5860 ext. 1002
The Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilkins, Priest-in-Charge
email@example.com * 301-622-5860 ext. 1001
Linda Lee, Parish Administrator
firstname.lastname@example.org * 301-622-5860 ext. 1003
Beresford Coker, Musical Director
Joyce Walker, Administrative Assistant
Lee Mericle, Senior Warden
Rosanne Tingley, Junior Warden
For information about St. Mark’s, please visit our website:
 Sermon text © 2021 Christopher Wilkins. All rights reserved.
Resources (available for free online)
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
- Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
- Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
- Enriching Our Worship 2, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf
- Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
- Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
- Lift Every Voice and Sing II: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/LEVS1993
- Wonder, Love, and Praise: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/WLP1997
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
- The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
Links to church websites – National, Diocesan and our church’s website.