Laetare Sunday. Fourth Sunday of Lent Year B.
2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23, Ephesians 2:4-10, John 3:14-21.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent, known as Laetare Sunday. Laetare means“rejoice”. In the middle of the penitential service of the Lenten period, the church invites Her children to rejoice and celebrate because of God’s love for the world.
The lent may seem to wear a sorrowful mood, but the Lenten period is a time we know the love of God for us. The sufferings of Jesus Christ points to the love God has for humanity. He says in John 15:13, that there is no greater love than this: to lay down your life for your friends. Today’s Sunday which is known as laetare Sunday derives its name from the introit or entrance song of today’s mass “laetare Jerusalem” (rejoice oh Jerusalem) taken from Isaiah 66:10.
The first reading recalls how the people were unfaithful to God. They left the worship of God to copy all the shameful and idolatrous practices from other nations instead of allowing other nations to copy from them.
They rejected God, abandoned Him, and defiled the temple with idols. Instead of dealing with them in His anger, God sends them messengers upon messengers to warn them, yet they pay deaf ears. Because of this, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to besiege the people and destroy the temple and hence took the people to exile.
Everything was utterly destroyed and left in ruins. It was highly devastating. They tore out the eyes of the king and killed his two sons in his presence.
It may sound easy when we read it, but let us put ourselves in this moment. It was truly a difficult time. Many were killed and some left to starve to death. In Babylon, the people spent decades in slavery and servitude.
In His love and mercy, as the first reading recounts, God roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation. He allowed the people to return and rebuild Jerusalem again. On their return, they found their cities in piles of rubble.
They faced the problem of hard labour, rebuilding the temple and also hostility from the surrounding countries. It is now in the midst of these that God comes to comfort them.
Therefore, the introit, that is the entrance song of laetare Sunday invites the people to rejoice with Jerusalem. It was once destroyed but now God is rebuilding it. They were once in mourning and suffering but they need not mourn any more.
So here, God is not only rebuilding the temple but also rebuilding the people again. Through this, God shows that He still loves them and wills to change their condition. It is a cause to rejoice.
So, the first reading is like a reminiscence. In the first reading, the writer recalls how the wrath of God led the people to exile and how His mercy and love for them brought them back.
In the same vein, the Lenten season is a time we commemorate how God renews and brings back his children who have been in exile under the bondage of sin. It is a cause to rejoice that God can love us this way by allowing His beloved son to suffer for us.
By implication, we have to rejoice because of the love God has for us. In His mercy, He is rebuilding and renewing us again through the Lenten practices. It is not only about appearing gloomy, we have to look beyond what this time means. Though we have to sacrifice, the sacrifice is for good.
It is a season to remember that God loves us and wills to bring us back to Himself. Our joy today is that God loves us even when we think He does not. Seeing how God saved the Israelites later from exile, we rejoice to know fully well that the moment of Easter will certainly come.
How God loves Us.
One may ask, how can we be assured that God loves us? How can we prove that God still loves me despite the problems and challenges that I face? How certain am I to prove God’s love for me?
One day a man approached me after the Sunday mass. His face appeared sad and gloomy. He handed a paper to me. I saw a list of things he wrote. I took time to go through the list and saw that as I was preaching about the love of God, he was busy listing all the hard things that happened in His life. The list was many.
Towards the end, he wrote. “Father please give this to God that does not love me” I was touched by this.
I told him to wait and I took time also to write the good things in His life. My reply was like this “ Some are dead, but He kept you alive”, Some have spent decades and more looking for just a child but you have five of them. “Many women died during childbirth but your wife passed through all of them safe and sound”, “You are having problems in your place of work but many are jobless and some are willing to take any payment to survive” etc.
I concluded my reply with “if you know how God loves you, always look at the cross. If He can choose to die for you, He can do anything for you’ When he read this, he shed tears and said “father this is true”. That ended our discussion.
If we truly want to know how God loves us, take time and count our blessings and check the things that we have that others do not have. Secondly, always look at the cross. The gospel says that God loves us so much that he gave his only son for our sake. If He can, then He is willing to go to any extreme just for my sake.
Our Response to God’s Love.
One thing that is certain in the readings is that God truly loves us. In the second reading, Paul explains how God is generous in His mercy and love. Through Jesus God saves us by His grace and not by our efforts. Hence His grace, love and mercy are available every day, every morning to save us. Where the problem lies is our response to this.
In His love, God is always willing to forgive us through his mercy, save us through his love and give us his grace but we receive and forget God. His grace is available to us but we said no to it. God shows us His face but we decide to show Him our back.
Jesus told Nicodemus in the gospel that God sends His Son to the world to save it from condemnation but the problem is that the world shows that they prefer darkness than to accept the light. So the problem is not that God hates us but we have decided to say no to God’s word. God tells us the way to live. He wants us to love and stay in peace but we decided to live the way we want and lose hope in God when we face disappointment.
1. To fully understand the gospel we have to read from the beginning of chapter three. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night. His visit to Jesus was because of what he heard about Him. He then came to Jesus at night willing to have an interaction with Him.
It was during this interaction that Jesus reveals many things about Him. Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council and thereby a prominent man, but he came seeking the Lord.
Being aware of God’s love for us, we have also to seek Him with all our hearts. One thing about this is that through it, God will reveal to us many things that we do not know about Him.
Nicodemus sacrificed his time to rest at night to meet the lord. We have also to sacrifice our time for God. We should not be so busy that we forget God entirely.
2. God is generous with His mercy love, grace and forgiveness. To be generous means He is open-handed, He gives freely, He lavishes His gifts. He is kind, loving, free-hearted and willing to give everything. If we give God our time, He will give us His time.
I think Nicodemus met Jesus uninvited and unexpected at night but yet Jesus was willing to give Him attention. God’s love and grace are available every day. If we give God our time, He will also give us attention. So everything boils down to our decision.
3. The response to Nicodemus’ question on how to be born again led to the discussion today in the gospel. Jesus tells Nicodemus that for one to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born again. Nicodemus asked “how can one be born again? Then the discussion that followed indicates that to save the world, God sends His Son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.
Hence, salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. However, to be born again or renew our lives, we have to open our hearts to Him and become one with the Lord. Accepting Him is accepting salvation, accepting light, and escaping condemnation. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ’s Jesus (Romans 8:1).
4. Just as Jesus comes to bring Israel back to the bases, let us use this Lenten period to come back to God. There is no joy greater than being close to God.
There is no greater joy when the soul remains close to Jesus. Jesus is the light and His light shines even in our darkest moments. The light of Christ illumines every darkness in our hearts.
Despite how sinful you may be in the past, no matter the mistakes you have made in the past, despite, however you think God will punish you, God is willing to rebuild us again. Are you willing to say yes or no?
5. God’s love for the world is endless. His love for you is everlasting. This is a cause to be happy today at Laetare Sunday. He does not want to lose our souls. He is always seeking to rebuild us, save us and show us how deep His mercy is.
This the time to give God your attention. Quit looking at someone. Sometimes we are tempted to use others as a determining factor of the way to relate with God. Our judgement on the last day is per head.
May God help us to be close to Him. May He guide you always. Amen. Enjoy the Laetare Sunday.
Amen, God bless you for the wonderful words of encouragement . God bless you.