4th Sunday in Lent – B
March 15, 2015
FROM LOWLINESS TO LAETARE
Today is Laetare Sunday. Midway through Lent, the Church tells us to “rejoice” (Laetare) which is a significant word in the Entrance Antiphon. Today, the processional hymn ideally ought to reflect this call to rejoice, as some kind of a break in the discipline of Lent.
The readings, as is proper of the season, are all very rich. The first reading, while referring to God’s people and their marked tendency to “mock the messengers” sent from above, also highlights the overflowing mercy of God, who raised up Cyrus, King of Persia, who liberated the Israelites from their exile in Babylon. Now, that event was a watershed moment in the history of salvation – ours, as much as that of the Israelites.
The second reading precisely develops the theme of God who is “rich in mercy.” We were all “saved by grace” and “raised up with Christ” being the “handiwork” of God.
The Gospel from John evokes images of Christ being “lifted up” for our salvation – a mission and vision whose actualization is still ongoing, for each and everyone of us.
Life, they say, is like a wheel. Sometimes you’re up; sometimes you’re down. The same is true for God’s people. Among their lowest moments was their exile in Babylon. That was a bitter experience, no less. We all can probably talk about similar experiences in life, when we are at our lowest, when we all feel like hitting rock bottom, when even the Lord, so to say, has abandoned us. Christ Himself, while hanging on the cross, felt that way and even prayed accordingly, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
This is what we try to simulate and experience during Lent. This is behind the discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that are the hallmarks of Lent. We need to feel what it is like to be down there, with no one to defend us, with no consolation to lift us up, like Christ experienced, like Christ underwent so that we all might live.
I don’t like to make the whole Christian story sound like a fairy tale, but it is the truth. The ending to it all is glory and victory – and with finality!
Our faith is sorely tested now. We do not seem to see ready answers to so many questions. We are all but ready now to give up hope of getting real justice, with truth and fairness especially to those who have less in life and law. Corruption – the massive and institutionalized kind, keeps us all bowed down in helplessness and hopelessness.
Today, 4th Sunday, midway through the season, the Lord tells us to rejoice. Yes … rejoice, for everything has an end, and endings are always beginnings.
For our lowliness, perched down from our lowest point, we are called to laetare, to rejoice, for God is rich and mercy and full of kindness. In a world so steeped in cruelty and all forms of barbarity, we need reminders of their opposites.
Yes, we have reason to hope. We have something to look forward to. And it has nothing to do with romantic fairy tales with and-they-lived-happily-ever-after endings. That is wishful thinking.
What the Lord gives is a promise that comes from prophecy. And “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” That is a promise from God. Promise!