Archives: 4 Lent

John 3:17: In The Pink

One thing I think you have to grant us: Davies and I are pretty in pink.

You see that this morning, Davies and I are wearing pink vestments. I get the pink set for the 8 a.m. service, and he will wear them for the 10 a.m.

They were a gift to me from a former parishioner after she heard me in a sermon lament that I’d always wanted to wear pink vestments for Rose Sunday, but had never had the chance.

Then they went in a closet and I never remembered to bring them to church for the correct Sundays either in Advent or Lent. But this year was the year!

And Davies has been a hilariously good sport about it as you might have noticed if you saw his fabulous picture on Facebook also wearing my pink heart-shaped sunglasses.

So why are we wearing pink today?

Well, the official name for the 4th Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday, and this Sunday has several traditions around it.

“Laetare” is the first word of the traditional Latin introit to the mass for this Sunday: “Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam,” which means, “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her.” That’s Isaiah 66:10.

It’s also called Refreshment Sunday, and it’s a chance to take a break from our Lenten solemnity. It’s like an oasis in the desert, or a chance to leave the wilderness, come back into town, and have a couple of beers at the local watering hole.

Christians have realized for a long time that as noble as our aspirations of self-denial and fasting are in Lent, we’re human, and we need a break. Forty days is a long time.

The gospel says that Jesus had angels ministering to him while he was in the desert. We don’t get that, but we do get a day off before the last push toward Holy Week.

Given that it coincides with losing an hour of sleep changing over to Daylight Savings Time, we could all probably use a break today.

Today is also known as Mothering Sunday in the Church of England, which could mean one of two things. It was a day when servants were let off work to go home and see their mothers, or alternatively, it’s a day to return to your mother church, the parish you attended in your childhood.

It’s also called Rose Sunday, which is where we get the pink. Continue reading

The Aftermath of a Miracle (Is Harder Than You Think)

What do you do in the aftermath of a miracle?

We all think about what kind of miracle we’d like to see happen in our lives—a winning lottery ticket, our team going all the way to the Final Four in March Madness, our political discourse regaining civility and sense. (I’ll give you three guesses as to which one of those is the farthest-fetched).

Many times our longing for a miracle is far more serious—for a loved one’s cancer to go into remission, for a job to come through after months of fruitless interviews, for an estranged child to come home for the holidays.

There are times God does do miracles this big in our lives—most of us can think of an example in our own lives or someone we know.

Sometimes the miracles are as simple as escaping a close call in traffic.

But it’s also really important to think about miracles far more broadly than actual supernatural events.

Sometimes we don’t get the miracle we prayed for, but we get the miracle we need.

Perhaps the miracle we prayed was for the cancer to go into remission, but the miracle we received was entering into an incredible new depth of relationship with our loved one through the process of caregiving as his or her health declined.

Perhaps the miracle we prayed for was for that job interview to pan out, but the miracle we received was a new understanding of our family’s ability to pull together in tough economic times.

Perhaps the miracle we prayed for was a reunion with an estranged child, but the miracle we received was a new ministry of intercessory prayer, as our faithful and sometimes anguished prayers for this lost and wandering loved one expand into a vocation of praying for all those who are lonely and in pain.

The first question to ask is this: where you need a miracle in your life?

And the second question to ask is this: where in your life is God giving you the miracle you need rather than the miracle you want? Take some time to pray about that this week.

But the real question I want to tackle in this sermon is this: what do you do in the aftermath of a miracle?

I think we often picture miracles as creating happily-ever-after scenarios where everyone rides off into the sunset together holding hands and singing Kum-Bah-Yah.

But the reality is quite different, as we see vividly illustrated in our gospel story.

For the man born blind whom Jesus heals in our gospel today, his miracle brings him nothing but trouble. Continue reading

Hunger to Honesty to Love

Today is Refreshment Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Since ancient times, Christians have recognized their frailty and realized they might not be able to maintain their strict Lenten disciplines all the way through the long, cold days of Lent waiting for Easter.

So rather than giving up halfway through and chucking the whole thing, they created Refreshment Sunday, a sort of pit-stop at the beginning of the last long climb toward Holy Week.

Today, you have the full sanction and blessing of the Church to take a day off from your Lenten discipline.

As is wont to happen with church traditions, Refreshment Sunday has had many auxiliary traditions grow up alongside it over the years.

Its original name was Laetare Sunday, from the Latin for “O be joyful.”

This was not an exhortation to the people to be joyful, the medieval Catholic Church was not that generous.

It was rather named for the introit used at the mass on the fourth Sunday of Lent, from Isaiah 66. It begins “O be joyful, Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her.”

All the monks and priests knew the introit and calling it Laetare Sunday was a sort of shorthand nickname for the fourth Sunday of Lent.

As time went on, “this same Sunday was known in England as Mothering Sunday. It was a day when servants and apprentices were allowed to take a day off and go home to visit their mothers. That tradition later became linked to parochial life as people made pilgrimage to the church of their youth, their “Mother Church.””

Not quite the same as Mother’s Day in the U.S., but probably part of its origins.

There is also a Refreshment Sunday in the other penitential season of the Church year, Advent. You may recognize it as the Sunday when some churches burn a pink candle in their Advent wreaths instead of a blue or purple one.

That comes from the other name for Refreshment Sunday which is Rose Sunday. It actually comes from medieval times when the Pope would send a golden rose to European monarchs as a reminder of to whom they owed their ultimate loyalty—although at times it was not clear whether that loyalty was supposed to be to God or to the Pope himself!

But Rose Sunday also came to be celebrated in a way I devoutly wish I had the liturgical budget to facilitate: with the priest wearing rose pink vestments.

In the old lectionary, the Gospel lesson for Refreshment Sunday was the story of the loaves and fishes. It’s very strange to realize that “there was a time when the lectionary known to most churches of the West did not include the Parable of the Prodigal Son at all, even though it is surely one of the best known of Jesus’ parables.”

It wasn’t until the Revised Common Lectionary was compiled in 1992 that the Prodigal Son had a slot to be proclaimed in church on Sunday mornings.

The Prodigal Son certainly finds himself in need of refreshment by the time he finds himself so hungry he’s eating food meant for pigs.

Refreshment is a very kind word for what is actually a very deep and visceral need.

And it’s a need that we all have within us.

There comes a time in our lives when we realize, like the younger son, that we are living badly.

Or rather, there should come a time in our lives that we realize that, but many of us don’t. Continue reading

Not So Much With the Atonement

“If it were a snake, it would have bit me!”

This is an expression you use if you’ve been looking for something and can’t find it only to discover it’s been right in front of you the whole time.

I thought of this expression as I studied our scriptures for this week about serpents and poles and whatnot, but it did not come true. There is nothing obvious about our texts today.

We’re going to have to dig a little deeper for meaning.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus who he is. He says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” That’s John 3:15.

Of course, the verse that everyone quotes all the time and puts on signs at football games is John 3:16, for God so loved the world. But I think this verse right before it bears an equal amount of fruit for us to harvest.

Jesus is referring to the story we read today from the book of Numbers, when Moses and the Israelites were in the wilderness.

The Israelites are misbehaving and complaining to Moses again, and the Lord finally gets fed up and sets a bunch of poisonous snakes on them.

Moses prays to the Lord to have compassion on them, and the Lord tells Moses to take a snake and raise it up on a pole, and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.

The interesting part of this story is that while it does say directly that it is the Lord who set the serpents among the people, which is bizarre at best and just mean at worst, the Lord never says that the serpents are there to punish the Israelites for their sin.

The Israelites draw that conclusion themselves. Continue reading

A Glop of Mud to the Face: Thanks, Jesus

In the story of the man born blind in our gospel today, I have always pondered 1) what was the blind man’s reaction when some random person spouting religious jargon comes up and starts spreading mud all over his face, and 2) how awesome is it that Jesus actually went to look for this man when he heard that he had been cast out?

But first we begin with another question: what are the Pharisees and townspeople really asking with all these angry questions?

What do they really want?

They want the same thing that all of us want: certainty.

If there is one thing the human mind cannot bear, it is having our well-thought out categories challenged.

The only way we are able to walk around every day without flying off the edge of this chaotic world is because we have constructed an elaborate system of How Things Work and How Things Ought To Be Done.

Unfortunately, Jesus does not really care about the categories we have constructed.

He breaks every box we’ve ever built for others and for ourselves to live in, and he’s not very polite about doing it. Continue reading