4th 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 and penance of Lent will soon end. Rather, it is a lesson about life. The drabness and trials of earthly life someday will end. The glory of heaven awaits — just as Easter awaits.
Once the Church required, and still allows, celebrants at Mass to wear vestments of a rose color. It is not as if the more somber violet of Lent today is diluted. Rather, the violet is 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. Thus it has remained, and thus it exists 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. Nor were they hostages, in the sense that they were not held to prevent rebellion by their kin people back home. But, they led an unhappy life in a foreign and unwelcoming culture.
Through the human instrument of Cyrus, the Persian king who overwhelmed Babylonia, God freed these people.
The Epistle to the Ephesians is the source of the second reading. It is an eloquent proclamation of God’s mercy. The epistle declares that before Christ, humans were doomed to everlasting death. Then, through and by salvation in Christ, they were 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. The march took them across the stark and unforgiving Sinai Peninsula. Trials were many, hunger and thirst among them. They lost their way. But, 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 this staff high. God promised that all who looked upon this 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 in 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. But, only in and through Jesus can they find joy and life.
The Church gently, but firmly, leads us onward through Lent. It reassures us that Easter is not far into the future. In fact, it will come in only a few more weeks.
If Lent has been productive, Easter should be a moment of joyful, personal resurrection. In faith, we then also should rise, ourselves being raised by our identity with Christ from the death of sin.
Lent’s productivity and effectiveness, however, depend upon us. We ourselves, by our commitment to God, and then by our prayer and penance, decide the value of Lent personally for ourselves.
The Church today urges us to continue to make Lent effective, to look ahead to resurrection.
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