Fourth Sunday of Lent (2018)
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Everyone likes a love story. We are happy, even joyful, when we watch on the big or small screen the accounts of people coming together and discovering the power of love. The drama is noticeably increased when that love has to overcome obstacles or face unexpected challenges. In spite of the staggering possibility that some marriages will fail, wedding days continue to be moments of great joy and happiness, because everyone likes a love story.
A first glance at our readings for the day might tempt us to think that we have something other than a love story taking place on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. But what we have at this halfway point of our Lenten journey is just that, a love story. The rose vestments that are worn are meant to lighten the somber mood of Lent, and the entrance antiphon is meant to set the tone for today’s celebration: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful!” The opening prayer states the reason we are joyful, for God, through His Word, reconciled “the human race to yourself in a wonderful way” [opening Collect].
The first reading from the second Book of Chronicles does not start out in the most uplifting of ways: “All the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.” With great honesty the writer of Chronicles not only recounts the incredible sinfulness of the Jewish people, but he also notes how often God reached out to them with great “compassion.” Their response: “They mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the Lord against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy.” It is because of their behavior that God allowed the Jewish people to be exiled into slavery in Babylon. So far this is not a happy story!
Things turn around, however, when the Persians come into power. King Cyrus had conquered the Babylonians, and surely the Jewish people could not have imagined that he [almost as a second Moses] would free the Jewish people from their bondage and allow them to return to Jerusalem, their homeland. On account of the Lord’s “inspiration”, a Gentile King would be responsible for giving the Jewish people a glimpse of the overwhelmingly generous love of their incredibly patient God! It is for this reason that the Jewish people can be happy, in spite of their keen understanding of their own sinfulness.
It is this theme which is highlighted in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “God is rich in mercy; because of his great love for us he brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin. By this favor you were saved.” We are saved not because of our “own doing”, but because of “God’s gift.” How joyful this good news should make us feel, for like the Jewish people in Chronicles we have so often been sinful that we are undeserving of such a precious gift.
Finally, the Evangelist John, in what has to be the most famous single sentence in Scripture [3:16], proclaims: “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” Like the Jewish people, we are never unaware of our sinfulness, but Lent is not so much a time to remind ourselves of our sins [which most of us don’t need to be reminded of], but it is a time to celebrate our salvation by a God who came into our world and who showed us how to live our lives. “Early and often” in our lives God has sent us signs of his love, and although we are undeserving of his love we say thank you by leading “the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.” It is for this reason on this Laetare Sunday, and on every day, that our hearts are bright and filled with joy, for we find ourselves immersed in the greatest love story of all time, God’s love for us, and everyone likes a love story.