Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fourth in Lent, Laetare, 2010

RCL C Joshua 5: 9-12

As we are reminded on the cover of our service leaflet this morning, the Fourth Sunday in Lent has a traditional name, Laetare Sunday. And as you know I love the way the old calendar traditions would speak to us.

The word is the first word of what for a thousand years in the life of the medieval and modern Church, perhaps still in the Roman Church, I’m not sure. Laetare was the beginning or incipit for the appointed Introit Psalm of the day. Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam . . . .

"Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.” A wonderful maternal image. Jerusalem our consoling Mother, giving us birth and nourishing us with her comfort and care.

That first word rings out with a surprising brightness in the subdued atmosphere of Middle Lent. “Rejoice . . . Rejoice.” In the many Churches where altar flowers are not used during Lent, this Sunday is an exception. And in some Churches as well the altar paraments and clergy vestments shift from the Lenten purple to a soft, pastel rose. Places where they stop putting out cookies for Coffee Hour have them again on this day. Certainly our Collect and the Gospel Lesson are all about the deep and nourishing refreshment we have in Christ.

In all our Lenten discipline, and even as we are beginning to notice with seriousness that the end of our Lenten journey is coming into view, with Jerusalem and Holy Week and Good Friday and the Cross not far ahead at all—with all that around us and ahead of us, we pause this Sunday to sing what sounds pretty much like an anthem of Easter morning. “Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.”

I’ve been following along the Old Testament readings this Lent, and this moment in the Fifth Chapter of Joshua is a wonderful one for Laetare Sunday, as the Covenant Meal of Passover is celebrated for the first time in the Land of God’s Promise, and as the provision of the Wilderness, the manna from heaven that had sustained them through these years, is now replaced by the abundant produce now all around them.

And this word from the LORD to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” Think of that: “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” A baptismal announcement if there ever was one. In the abundance of his mercy. No longer a slave people, no longer a refugee people, by the act of God they are this day renewed and transformed. Today they are free. Today they are home.

“I will bless you and make your name great,” God had promised Abraham, “so that you will be a blessing.” “To your descendants I will give this land.” “Look toward heaven and number the stars . . . . So shall your descendants be.”

To be a blessing. To be God’s people and to bring his blessing into the world. “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” Or as the great choirs would sing, “Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy.”

The 40 Days of Lent are patterned after the 40 days Jesus spent in the Wilderness after his Baptism in the Jordan River, and those 40 days themselves an echo of the 40 years that passed between the miracle of deliverance at the Red Sea and this hour of homecoming at Gilgal.

And the pattern each of us follows by one path or another in the journey of our lives. In the Wilderness, but not alone. Wandering, but not lost. People—each one of us—people of the New Covenant. Nourished along the way with the Bread of Heaven, and with glimpses even now of a Heavenly Banquet, as we will at last come home. Lifted up along the way with the assurance that even now we are being renewed and refreshed and transformed in God’s blessing, and that even now—sometimes in big and celebrated ways, sometimes in the side aisles of the world, and in secret—even now being made agents of God’s blessing in the places where we live, in our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities. Signs of new life. Living and breathing demonstrations of the Passover Mystery of Easter Morning.

It was winter, and four feet of snow in Pittsburgh in February, and it all seemed like it would never end. But here it is. Daylight Saving Time. Baseball in Florida. A few days of sunshine anyway. And spring rain. And the songs that are Easter songs 52 weeks a year, whatever the season, and all our lives long. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.

Dark nights. Long lents. A generation in the desert of Sinai. His mercies never come to an end: they are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord. Great is thy faithfulness.

So simply to say with blessings on this midlent Sunday, and refreshment, and encouragement to keep our spirits up and all of us moving forward through the weeks ahead.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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