FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (2021)
Readings:2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23Psalms 137:1-6Ephesians 2:4-10John 3:14-21
Today is the first of only two opportunities in the entire liturgical year, when a priest celebrating Mass can wear rose-colored vestments. It also means that we are halfway through the Lenten season. Whatever promises we may have made on Ash Wednesday to spiritually improve our lives during the Lenten season should already be bearing fruit. If not, there is another half of Lent awaiting us, and it will culminate in the holiest days of the entire Church year.
This Sunday is called “Laetare,” to highlight the themes of “rejoice” found in the Entrance Antiphon for the day: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exalt and be satisfied at her consoling breast (Is 66:10-11).” Making an effort to rejoice in the middle of a pandemic which has taken the lives of over 520 thousand people, and with all the cares and burdens that rest on ordinary shoulders, it might appear to take a particular effort to rejoice and be joyful. It is far too easy to get lost in our worries and see the glass as “half empty.” What today’s liturgy points out is that there is always a reason to celebrate and be glad, for the God we worship has reconciled “the human race to [Himself] in the most wonderful of ways” (Collect).
Marilyn McEntyre’s reflection in Give Us This Day reminds us that the feelings of despair felt by so many people (disenfranchised, enslaved, persecuted, unjustly imprisoned, oppressed, exiled, victims of war, those largely ignored) is so great that the temptation to lament, rather than to rejoice, is the more natural and ready reaction. McEntyre quotes Aeschylus, whose words about suffering have lasted these thousands of years because they ring so true:
“Even in our sleep,pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until,in our own despair, against our will,comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
To those who have known true suffering there blessedly comes a certain wisdom, for it is through suffering, Christians believe, that redemption manifests itself so clearly. It is the light that shines through the cross, an instrument of torture on which our Savior died, that directs our attention to the resurrection.
Sunday’s first reading from 2 Chronicles might seem a peculiar way to highlight the rejoicing aspect of this day, describing as it does “the princes of Judah, the priests and [all] the people” adding “infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which [God] had consecrated in Jerusalem.” “Early and often” God had compassion on them, sending them messengers (prophets) who they ignored, or worse, put to death. Their enemies destroyed Jerusalem, and carted the Jews off to a foreign land, where for seventy years they were free to ‘sit and weep remembering Zion.’
It is when the Jews were at their lowest, that God unexpectedly uses a pagan king, Cyrus, to restore Jerusalem, and restore the hopes of His people. As we so often do, we tend to focus on the sinfulness of the people described in 2 Chronicles, but lucky for us, and for the Jews in exile, God focused with compassion on their sufferings. We rejoice today and always, because God responds to our sinfulness with love. Our lives might very well be a blend of good and evil, but the first reading gives us the assurance that there is nothing we can do which might cause God to abandon or reject us, for “when we were dead in our transgressions,” Paul tells us in our second reading, we “were brought to life in Christ.” It is because of the “immeasurable riches of God’s grace in His kindness to us” that we are saved.
The discourse with Nicodemus in John’s gospel only reiterates, in one of the most famous passages in Scripture, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (Jn 3:16).” We sometimes act in a way as though God is watching us and waiting for us to mess up, waiting for us to sin. God watches and waits for us, not to catch us doing wrong, but to catch us doing His will. It is that, that causes God to rejoice, and when God is happy, we have every reason to rejoice as well.
May this Laetare Sunday remind us, no matter what sufferings we endure, how many reasons we have to rejoice. May God “who enlightens everyone who comes into this world, illuminate our hearts, we pray,” that “with the splendor of God’s grace… we may always ponder what is worthy and pleasing [to God] and love [Him] in all sincerity (Prayer After Communion).” Amen.