We’re almost halfway through Lent, hard to believe. Outside it’s been so warm that crocuses and snowdrops have bloomed, and their fragrance heralds the flowers of Easter. Appropriately, we sometimes call the fourth Sunday in Lent Refreshment Sunday. Laetare Sunday comes from the word “rejoice,” from the traditional introit sung on this Sunday. The lectionary used to be one year long, and this fourth Sunday took its language of rejoicing from Isaiah 66. For more on the historic lectionary see this site. I found the text in Latin and English for those who might be curious about such things:
Laetare, Jerusalem: conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, quia in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. — Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus. V.: Gloria Patri . . . — Laetare, Jerusalem . . .
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 from the breasts of your consolation. — (Ps. 121. 1). I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. V.: Glory to the Father . . . — Rejoice, O Jerusalem . . .
This coming Sunday was also called Mothering Sunday. Like the third Sunday in Advent, also a refreshment Sunday, there’s a sense of lightening of the spirit. Refreshment and renewal have been everywhere this last week, with ice and snow melted, buds beginning to swell, and the branches of some bushes deep in the woods reddening with sap.
This week we hear one of my favorite verses in the New Testament, this from II Corinthians 5:17. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
Stan Feener and I teach the Confirmation class together. This year, we have seven young people preparing for the great day. And as much as we try to unfold the things of faith for them, sometimes the best we can do is talk about the holy mystery of it all. This proclamation of Paul’s “see everything has become new” is one of those mysteries for me. No one can explain the constant renewal that is the life of faith, the bubbling spring in the soul, the green life that always comes back, that death that leads to life. The mystery is experienced. Our hope, our prayer, for our confirmands is that they have experienced Christ’s renewing life already. We hope that confirmation is an affirmation of what they already have come to believe and to live.
Lent is the church’s season to remember and renew our baptisms. Baptism for us is the sacrament of what Paul speaks of in II Cor. We are made new; we pass through the waters of death into the waters of life, and are raised as a new creation. I forget sometimes that I’ve been made new in Christ, especially when griefs and trials come. Repentance becomes the path of remembrance–remember your baptism, remember who and whose you are, remember you have been made new in Christ, every part of you, every cell, every sinew, not just one part, but all of you, Paul insists.
In light of this week’s renewing warmth, repentence becomes the path of refreshment, the discovery of gardens in the wilderness, the certainty of resurrection. New life reaches toward Easter, coming up from the chill dark earth, opening into the light of a spring sun. When the way gets dark again, as it will on Good Friday, the Gospel promise that all things are made new in Christ will lead our way through, as it does every year. We’ll sing again with those who sang for so many centuries in this season: ‘Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow. “