The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday, which means “Rejoice Sunday.” The readings given for our meditation tell us why we should rejoice. We rejoice because, as Jesus announces very clearly in today’s Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This is the great cause for our rejoicing: the fact that God loves us so much! God’s infinite love for us is the summary of the whole Bible. It is the very heart of Christianity, the essential thing that we must believe.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life, and the Son of God laid down his life on the Cross so that we may be saved. Jesus alludes to his saving Death on the Cross when he says in the Gospel, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” This mystery, God’s infinite love for us, expressed most powerfully through the Cross of Christ, is what we are looking forward to celebrating with the greatest solemnity in the Easter Triduum, when we will see Jesus “lifted up” on the Cross and “lifted up” in his risen glory. As we prepare for that great celebration with a spirit of prayer and penance, the liturgy of this Sunday invites us to rejoice exceedingly in the ineffable love of God for us. St. John, who was deeply aware of this love, wrote: “Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent his Son to expiate our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).
St. Paul urges us, in today’s second reading, to focus on the “great love” that God has for us, the love that frees us from sin and brings us new life, the love that is the joy of our lives. “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.”
The great and saving love of God was already on display in the life of the people of Israel, as we read in today’s reading from the Second Book of Chronicles. The people of Israel had been repeatedly unfaithful to God’s initiative of love. They suffered the consequences of their unfaithfulness through a distressing period of exile in Babylon. Their greatest pain was that the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. It was as if they no longer had access to God and could no longer publicly worship him. In their deep humiliation, they realized that it was their own fault; they had turned their backs on God. God, however, in his unwavering love, did not abandon them. He reached out to them and led them out of exile. The people were set free to return to Jerusalem and to the worship of God.
We, the new Israel, the members of the Church, have also repeatedly turned our backs on God. When we live in sin, we bring upon ourselves the desolate exile of sin. But though sin has terrible effects on us, it does not stop the infinite love of God. He invites us today to turn away from every form of sin and to find our joy in his merciful love. The holy season of Lent, with its penitential practices, is meant to help us focus on God’s love and respond to it that we may have life. Even when we are still in the exile of this valley of tears, we do not forget God’s love! If the Israelites in exile could proclaim that they would never forget Jerusalem, much more must we proclaim that we will never forget God’s boundless love. “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you” – if I ever forget that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
In my humiliations, do I realize that I have been unfaithful to God and have turned my back on Him? On this Laetere Sunday, am I rejoicing that I find my joy in God’s merciful love towards me? Do I ponder on the truth that God’s infinite love for me is the very heart of Christianity?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.