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Hebrews 5:1-10

One of my former pastors often talked about the “Christian cruise” perception of Christianity. It goes like this: “Life was really hard. But then I got saved. And now everything just seems to work out. These days, my job is to just sit back and relax while God does all the heavy lifting. Being a Christian is like one long vacation.”

One of the purposes of the season of Lent is to reorient our lives towards the cross, towards suffering. We remember during Lent that God came in the flesh to live among us, but “people loved darkness” and crucified the living God. We remember that without the miraculous gift of salvation, that is how we also respond to the presence of the living God.

The season of Lent also draws us towards our own suffering. We choose to fast. We embrace the wilderness. We repent and pray that God would give us clean hearts as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection.

This week’s scriptures draw us into suffering. The author of Hebrews offers us a challenging teaching: Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.”

We long to be more like Jesus. We long to be witnesses to the power of God for salvation in our world. We long to be fully submitted to God, obedient in every moment. This verse points the way: suffering. Or, as the Gospel reading says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Suffering. Hating their life. What difficult words for we humans who prefer comfort and ease!

Hebrews tells us that, “In 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.” Again, how we long to know that God hears our prayers. How we long to see God’s kingdom come in our world, in our lives, in the lives of those around us. And again, Hebrews points the way: desperate prayers and reverent submission. And again, what difficult words for those of us who would prefer to be “cruise Christians.” Can’t we just fill out the order form with what we would like God to do for us this week?

What about the connection between Jesus and Melchizedek? Melchizedek first appeared in Genesis 14 when Abraham (Abram, at that point) was returning from battle. Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave him one tenth of everything. According to the author of Hebrews, Christ is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” This relationship is given more attention in Hebrews 7, but the important point here is that even Jesus, God incarnate, submitted to a higher authority. Jesus “did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest,” but was “designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” Even in this position of religious authority, Jesus did not grasp the position for himself, but rather humbly submitted to God and received this designation from God. What an example for us to follow as we are constantly faced with the temptation to grasp power (to use to do good in the world, of course!)

The book of Hebrews opens with the claim that “in these last days [God] has spoken to us by a Son.” In Hebrews 12, the author urges us to “look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” One classical theory of atonement is called “Christus Exemplar.” This is the idea that one of the purposes of Jesus’s death is to be an example that we can follow to salvation. Hebrews 5 offers that opportunity. We see Jesus as humble, obedient, and submitted to God. We see Jesus praying “with loud cries and tears.” God is speaking to us through the life of Jesus, both as a demonstration of the character of God and a demonstration of the pattern after which we might fashion our own lives.

But Hebrews 5 also offers us more than an example to try to follow. According to another classical theologian—Athanasius—Jesus “became what we are that we might become what he is.” Through Jesus’s reverent submission and obedience, Jesus became “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” As God in the flesh, Jesus suffered and died. He became what we were: frail, weak, subject to death. But through his death and resurrection, we can now become what Jesus is: free from the bonds of sin and death.

Again, looking to this week’s gospel reading and the words of Jesus in John 12: “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.” The death of Jesus gave us life.

This passage in Hebrews gives us the opportunity to dispel the myths of “cruise Christianity.” Following in the footsteps of Jesus does not buy us a cruise through this life and on into the next. Instead, following in the footsteps of Jesus means a path of suffering, of prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. It means refusing the temptation to glorify ourselves, to elevate ourselves to positions of authority. It even means letting go of the idea that we can save anyone, including ourselves.

This passage also gives us opportunity to hear the good news of salvation. We need not be bound by sin and death. “He became what we are that we might become what he is.” We can be set free from the sin that binds us. We can be set free from the fear of death that cripples us. We can be free to endure suffering and find God’s grace present even in the darkest days. We can be free to give away our lives and know that the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies bears much fruit.

May we follow Christ’s example, and may we receive Christ’s gift of salvation.