Fourth Sunday of Lent
This weekend the Church celebrates “Laetare Sunday,” the name drawn from what is the first word in Latin of the Entrance Antiphon, “Rejoice!” Lent is well under way. Easter is not that far in the future.
The reason for rejoicing is not so trivial as to say that the drabness of winter and penance of Lent soon will end. Rather, it is a lesson about life. Indeed, the drabness of earthly life someday will end. The glory of heaven awaits, just as Easter awaits us now.
Once the Church required, and still allows, celebrants at Mass to wear vestments of a rose color. It is not pink but rose. Pink results from an infusion of white, rose from an infusion of gold. Rose, in today’s vestments, is Lenten violet brightened by the sunbeams of the approaching dawn. That dawn, of course, will be the brilliant flash of the Resurrection.
The Second Book of Chronicles supplies this weekend with its first reading. Once Chronicles was in a single volume. As time passed, and as editors and translators had their way, it was separated into two volumes. It has remained as two volumes, now appearing in all modern translations of the Bible.
It is part of the Bible’s historical set of volumes. While these volumes tell of the history of God’s people, their purpose is not to report history but to reveal developments in the people’s religious experience.
This reading recalls the bitter events that led to the chosen people’s defeat by the Babylonians and the removal of many Hebrews — their numbers now unknown — to Babylon. In Babylon, they were not exactly enslaved, or hostages, in the sense that they were not held to prevent rebellion by their kin people back home. But they lived an unhappy life in a foreign and unwelcoming culture.
Using as an instrument Cyrus, the Persian king who overwhelmed Babylonia, God freed these people.
The Letter to the Ephesians is the source of the second reading. It is an eloquent proclamation of God’s mercy, declaring that, before Christ, humans were doomed to everlasting death. Then, by salvation in Christ, they are able to attain everlasting life.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading, recalling a moment in the Exodus, that long march by the Hebrews from Egypt, where they had been slaves, to the Promised Land. Wandering across the stark and unforgiving Sinai Peninsula, trials were many, hunger and thirst among them. They lost their way. Another trial was the presence of venomous snakes.
Again, God supplied relief. He told Moses, the leader, to lift a snake on a staff and to hold the staff high. God promised that all who looked upon the staff with the impaled snake would survive.
The implication of the Crucifixion is clear. The Gospel subtly reminds us that all who look upon the Cross of Jesus with faith will live.
The Gospel continues. It is a moving description of God’s mercy. Humans can find joy, and they can find eternal life, through Jesus.
The Church leads us onward through Lent, reassuring us that Easter is not far away. In fact, it will come in only a few more weeks.
It is not about counting days. Lent is a symbol of life. If we have renounced our lives, perfecting our renunciation in the prayer and penance of Lent, ewe can expect to see the clarifying light and warmth of the sunburst of Easter.
Hopefully, at Easter, we too shall rise from death and the coldness of life without the Lord.
Lent’s productivity and effectiveness depend upon us and our sincerity. The Church today urges us to continue to make Lent effective. The daybreak is near!
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