Nova’s Ordo: Fifth Sunday of Lent

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour?’
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered and said,
“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.
Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself.”
He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

The readings for the past week literally past me by. So did my duty to write this post. (We agreed to a Lenten schedule for these posts.) I was sleepy, traveling, and mentally absent at Mass this past Sunday–and we got there late, at the end of the second reading. Vox Nova was the last thing on my self-centered mind. This negligence has been fruitful, albeit late. It brought me to this small redemption: to recover what I lost and find the rich, deep, and retroactive lesson I squandered on Sunday.

Accept this belated meditation as a gesture at redemption, dedicated to all those who, like me, never seem to arrive on time. Those who, like Augustine, always seem to love God “too late.”

This is precisely what Jesus shows in the Gospel reading: perfect timing.

By ‘time’ I am referring to salvation history, to the perfect economy of salvation. I have been critical of certain, pastoral abuses of the term ‘salvation’ in the past, but the theological truth the term can lead us towards remains. These scriptures are brimming with the reality of what the term ‘salvation’ refers to.

The supplication of Psalm 51 expresses it perfectly: “Create a clean heart in me, oh God.”

Being clean is all about timing. It is a process. One is never clean for much time before one becomes dirty. This is why we wash our clothes, our bodies, our souls. From the theodicy beyond time, Christ enters into time in a very particular, incarnate way that, above all, invite us to theosis, to an ecstatic dwelling where we lose everything to gain nothing—nothing but everything.

What is remarkable is not only how we are invited to dwell in God, but how God dwells with us through death. It is almost as if we—you and me!—invite God to dwell with us in our greatest, most terrifying experience and fear: death. Jesus does not simply tell us to die, he indicates the kind of death he would die too.

It is not enough to die. The point is to die well, to die like Christ. To imitate Christ even on to death. The apostles failed, at least initially. When they did die, they did so too late. Peter missed the opportunity of dying with his teacher. I seem to miss every serious chance to die in small, but all-too-real, ways and deeds. I die by dying poorly, missing the chance to die well, to live.

I pray to not merely die in a generic way this Lent. I must die well. May we all die like the grain of wheat, like Christ who gives life and does so just in time, drawing all things out of time and into the timeless excess of God.

Better late than never.

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  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Many years ago, in an otherwise unremarkable speech, the science fiction author Robert Heinlein recounted the story of a nameless vagrant who died in Kansas City about 100 years ago, trying to save a woman whose foot had gotten caught in a railroad crossing. The vagrant who was literally walking the tracks and came across the woman, worked to free her before an oncoming train arrived. Though he could have saved himself at the last minute, he instead kept trying to extricate her until they were both hit and killed instantly. Your post reminded me of Heinlein’s peroration: “This is how a man dies. This is how a man lives.”

    May we all die, in large ways and small so that we can live. Thank you for this post Sam.

  • Mark Gordon

    So good, Sam, and worth the wait. A few years ago I coined a word, soteranxiety, to denote the fearful obsession that many Christians bring to the jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” In a way, our damnation is embedded in the question itself because it focuses on saving our lives, not on losing them. Lent is a sweet reminder that we are saved by dying to self, by dying into Christ, in order to know “newness of life.”