Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth in Lent, Laetare, 2011

I Samuel 16: 1-13; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41

Grace and peace on this Midlent Sunday, half-way through the season, traditionally named “Laetare,” from what was the traditional choral introit for this Sunday, “Laetare Ierusalem,” the text from Isaiah 66: 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 . . . .

Traditionally a day where some of the austerities of our Lenten disciplines would be relaxed. Not anything like the full-blown celebration of Easter, of course, but a pause for refreshment, as we gather ourselves for the final distance in the weeks ahead. “Refreshment Sunday” another name for the day, with the theme picked up in the Collect that reflects the wonderful saying in John 6, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. A day we might say to enjoy that cookie at coffee hour with a smile!

The lessons appointed for this day in our lectionary are so rich, and it is just very exciting and I guess I could say “refreshing” to hear them all.

Beginning with this story from First Samuel that tells of old Samuel’s trip to Jesse’s ranch outside Bethlehem, and the anointing of young David. I love that moment, so dramatic, when after that procession of the older sons of Jesse Samuel first sees David and then hears the voice of the Lord: “Rise, anoint him, for this is the one.”

As many of you know, I tell this story often in the baptismal office, at the time of the anointing. Recalling this watershed moment in scripture, in the great narrative of salvation history, when the Prophet could say to the country boy, “God has great things in mind for you.” The anointing of David as God’s chosen one is of course a prefiguring of Jesus, whose title “the Christ” means “the anointed.”

We would see ourselves in the picture as well--how as we are made one in Christ Jesus we receive that holy gift and blessing ourselves. Baptized into his death, we are raised up as priests and kings—and queens!—in the resurrection life of Christ and to the life eternal of God’s kingdom. Anointed in our baptism, made one with Christ, each one of us like David: Chosen; set-apart; consecrated; God has great things in mind for you. Just a great story, the heart of the gospel here, the Good News, the New Testament breaking forth in the midst of the Old.

And then this brief reading, just a few sentences, from Ephesians. “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light . . . . Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Hints of Advent.

In this season again as we were in the gospel readings over the past couple of weeks, and as we are today, in St. John’s gospel, to think back to those opening verses of the first chapter. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father.” Sleeper awake, indeed. This phrase from an ancient Christian hymn. Perhaps to be sung at baptism, or at any great eucharistic celebration. Christian friends. Laetare Sunday, and Easter bursting in to the middle of our Lent. “Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

And then of course finally this wonderful long reading from John 9. One of the great signs of the Gospel of Signs, as we sometimes name the first half of St. John. Like the stories of Nicodemus and of the Woman at the Well, this one is so rich with imagery. The imagery of healing, of the one who was blind given the gift of sight, and once again, as we had at the Well last week as well, a dramatic moment when Jesus shares the intimate knowledge of himself with the man who now for the first time can see: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” -- “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” And the man, then, his confession of faith. “Lord I believe.” And he worshipped him.

We live in this story ourselves, of course. Another “prefiguring.” His story is our story. Individuals, each of us, and the life of the Church. As the great hymn inspired by the man’s confession echoes in our voices and through all our lives. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.”

Anointed, blessed, gifted, redeemed, healed, restored, renewed, lifted up. The journey from Bethlehem and the manger to Jerusalem and the Cross, where there is payment for our sin and healing of our blindness and the fresh spring of the living water welling up to life eternal. And we pause this day in the weeks of Lent to rest in him, to be refreshed in him, who is our companion and our goal, our starting place and our destination. All about Laetare Sunday, every Sunday, and all our lives in Christ. 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 . . . .

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