It’s the middle of Lent—it’s the middle of our period of sorrow for our sins, attempts (often unsuccessful) to rein them in; it’s a time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in ways specially focused and extensive. It’s the season of devotions that emphasize the price paid for our salvation, like the Stations of the Cross or the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. So why should we rejoice?
But this Sunday has been known as “Rejoice” Sunday for centuries. The Latin word, Laetare, is the opening word of the Entrance antiphon for this Sunday: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all you who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast” (Isaiah 66:10-11). Since we sing an Entrance hymn we almost never hear these words. But they give color to the day.
The reason for the rejoicing is stressed in the Gospel (actually, the Gospels of all 3 of the Sunday cycles): Jesus brings the man born blind into the Light (John 9, Cycle A); Jesus assures Nicodemus that “God so loved the world…” (John 3, Cycle B); Jesus promises a joyful restoration for those who (like the Prodigal Son) repent and return (Luke 15, Cycle C). Who does not need Good News like this? And hearing it, who would not also rejoice?
We are glad, too, because Lent is now more than half over—it’s “Hump Sunday,” if you will! We’ve come this far; we won’t give up; we’re going to make it with the grace of God all the way to Easter!
This last phrase is critically important. We don’t somehow “merit” or “earn” God’s love and approval by gritting our teeth, clenching our fists, straining and groaning until we “succeed.” The Gospels tell a different story: the blind man’s sight is given to him; because of love God gave the Only-Begotten Beloved Son (habibi, as Fr Dennis told us); the Father’s love kept a watch for the returning son who was then given everything and more in celebration. It’s all, finally, grace—our job is simply to be kinds of people who are open to and willing to accept this gift and then live it.
Lent, then, is less about what we can or cannot do, or how much (or how little) we think we can “perfect” ourselves. It is much more about opening to the divine gifts of mercy, of love, of healing, of reconciliation. So many of us think of ourselves as “unworthy” of mercy, unlovable, unable to be healed, impossible to be reconciled. In Lent God shouts to us: I do love you! I can heal you and reconcile you (even with yourself)! I will show you mercy! Lent is all about “Good News”—it’s the greatest reason of all for rejoicing. Happy Laetare Sunday to everyone.