THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT – Laetare, Jerusalem
Introit: (Is. 66) Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together, all ye that love her; rejoice for joy, all
ye that have mourned: that ye may be glad, and be satisfied with the breasts of your consolation.
Ps. (122) I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord. Glory be …
Rejoice, O Jerusalem …
Collect: Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God: that we who for our evil deeds worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through Jesus Christ our Lord thy Son, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, throughout all ages world without end. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant to the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim. Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee. Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on, as doth a bride. (Isaiah 49.8-18)
Gradual: (Ps. 122) I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord. V. Peace be within thy walls: and plenteousness within thy palaces.
Epistle: Brethren: It is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But that Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and shout, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she who hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. (Galatians 4.21—5.1)
Tract: (Ps. 125) They that put their trust in the Lord shall be even as the mount Sion: which may not be removed, but standeth fast for ever. V. The hills stand about Jerusalem: even so standeth the Lord round about his people, from this time forth for evermore.
The Holy Gospel: At that time, Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, who hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. (St John 6.1-15)
“Jerusalem which now is, is in bondage, with her children.”
On this Fourth Sunday in Lent, in the midst of the bleakness of March and our forty-day wilderness journey, these powerful and uplifting Scripture passages are given us to strengthen and refresh our hungry, thirsty souls. On the previous three Sundays, we heard much about temptation, the devil and evil spirits. Those demons are spiritual realities, not easily dismissed. They are those false passions and attachments and ideals which enter in, and powerfully possess our souls—the false gods we so readily entertain, and foolishly set our hearts upon, and which separate us from the true and living God. This is our bondage and captivity—our Babylon and Egypt. But as last Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 11.14-28) taught us, the casting out of the demons is not enough—the empty, disillusioned soul is vulnerable to more, and even more vicious, demons.
Our Lord says: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”Both science and metaphysics tell us that “nature abhors a vacuum.” This is true in the spiritual realm, as well. Our souls can never be truly empty—the void must be filled. And it will be filled either by evil or good, by Satan or by God; by the seven deadly sins of pride, anger, envy, covetousness, gluttony, lust, and sloth, or by the seven cardinal virtues of humility, patience, kindness, charity, temperance, chastity, and diligence. As natural human beings we can never eradicate those seven deadly sins, but even if we could do, the void would have to be filled with something. And today, Our Lord tells us what that something must be, lest those “wicked spirits” return with even greater vehemence. We must feed upon and be filled by the Bread of Life, which is Christ Himself, the living Word of God. The empty soul, the swept and garnished house, is not enough; it is, in fact, an altogether perilous situation. And thus, today’s lessons speak to us of the filling of our souls with the truth and grace of God. The Gospel account of Our Lord’s miraculous feeding of the multitude in the wilderness teaches us that we must feed upon Him in our hearts through fervent prayer and Scripture reading. We must feed on His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. We must be so filled by His Holy Spirit that there remains no room left for those sins and evil spirits to re-enter. This is our Christian warfare and pilgrimage.
The forty days of Lent recall to us Our Lord’s forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness. But they also recall the Exodus—the forty years of Israel’s wandering from captivity in Egypt, the struggle through the wilderness, led by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, sustained by manna from the heavens, and water from the stony rock, to their new home of freedom in the Promised Land. Behind all this rich symbolism, we find a diagnosis of our condition of exile and captivity in a foreign land—our alienation from God and separation from our soul’s true home, wandering through a barren wilderness of trials and temptations, striving to find our way. We are told the journey’s destination, the Promised Land, the city of God, the place of peace and freedom for which the spirit yearns. “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God. When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?” (Ps 42). Symbolically, then, it is the story of the struggle of the human soul, as she makes her way homeward to God. This is the shadow, the substance of which is Christ’s journey through death and resurrection, through which we are called to follow Him. And as we follow, we have the assurance of divine sustenance and guidance in the way, through God’s watchful care, providence, and nourishment by Word and Sacrament.
Lent represents to us this pilgrimage, this inner journey of the soul, struggling in the wilderness of trials and temptations, seeking the spiritual Jerusalem. But our wilderness is not some external place. It is the soul’s confused, unfruitful life until she finds her rest and refreshment in God; the soul’s own transformation, as she finds renewal of the mind in God, through the providence of God’s own revelation. That is the basic theme of Lent—our journey to Jerusalem—and it is in that context that we should think about our Scripture lessons for all the Sundays of this season.
Lent IV is variously known as “Mothering Sunday,” from the Epistle reading which speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem as “the mother of us all;” “Refreshment Sunday,” from the Gospel reading about the feeding of the multitude in the wilderness; or “Laetare Sunday,” from the Introit and Psalm for the day. Psalm 122 is one of what are called The Psalms of Ascent—that is, the songs of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. In our Christian understanding, Jerusalem has become the image of our spiritual homeland, and Holy Mother Church, in which our sanctified humanity finds ultimate joy and refreshment. These several names reflect one basic thought: the homeward journey of our souls is sustained and nourished by the Word of God in Christ, by that Providence which keeps alive within us the vision of Jerusalem, the City of our freedom, our native land of pure and perfect good. That is the bread which sustains us in the wilderness, and nothing less can ever satisfy the restless heart. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Mt 4.4; Dt 8.3) Our mothers give us birth, nourish us, and guide our steps. Even so the heavenly Jerusalem, through the providence of God, gives birth to our spiritual life, nourishes us, and guides our upward way. It is the office of the Church on earth to be an outpost of that heavenly Jerusalem, the free city of God and homeland of the soul. That is what the word “parish” actually means—a colony, or outpost—and thus, the Church’s task is mothering, by Word and Sacrament, with teaching and discipline; rebuking and casting out our demons, and nourishing our souls with the vision of a higher, nobler and freer life. This is our bread in the wilderness, the daily rations for our journey. And this is the ground of our rejoicing.
As Christians, the source of our joy, as we learn from the Epistle, is freedom. But St Paul’s understanding of Christian freedom is far different from what we in 21st-century North America understand by the term. When we talk about freedom, we usually mean that adolescent notion of being able to do whatever we want whenever we please, or that rapidly eroding list of ideas and ideals nominally guaranteed by the Constitution and the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” But the liberty of which St Paul speaks in Galatians far surpasses any secular notion of “freedom,” and cannot be bestowed or taken away by any governmental fiat. The liberty wherewith Christ has made us free does not depend upon human laws or cultural mores, and cannot be “cancelled.” Rather, the Christian’s freedom is based squarely and firmly upon the self-sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the brokenness of the world. Christ has bought our freedom, freeing us once and for all from the bondage of sin and death, making us children of God, children of the heavenly Jerusalem. Thus, freedom for Christians exists even—perhaps especially—in the midst of our earthly prisons, and is the source of a joy that far exceeds anything this world can offer. It is the freedom to live, even in the midst of death. All of these readings encourage us, and help us understand the true nature of our Christian pilgrimage. The Tract reminds us, “The hills stand about Jerusalem: even so standeth the Lord round about his people, from this time forth for evermore.” We are journeying to Jerusalem, but more importantly, we are journeying with Christ. He will sustain us, and will never forsake us. Rather, it is we who can all too easily stray from Him.
Our spiritual life requires a lot of mothering, and that is the proper activity of the Church. She prepares us to meet the hardships of life, to face them honestly and steadily, by establishing a certain perspective of promise; by setting before us a vision of a final and eternal good, a vision of the heavenly City, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. By that vision our faith and hope are sustained and fortified. That is what we mean by the “cure [i.e., care, tending or shepherding] of souls.” Faith is indeed God’s gracious gift; yet we must learn it day by day. Hope must be tested by temptation; and charity must be refined from worldly loves, until our knowing and our willing become fixed upon the eternal good, from which nothing can separate us.
Joy and triumph everlasting
Hath the heavenly Church on high;
For that pure immortal gladness
All our feast-days mourn and sigh:
Yet in death’s dark desert wild
Doth the mother aid her child,
Guards celestial thence attend us,
Stand in combat to defend us.
Here the world’s perpetual warfare
Holds from heaven the soul apart;
Legion’d foes in shadowy terror
Vex the Sabbath of the heart.
O how happy that estate
Where delight doth not abate;
For that home the spirit yearneth,
Where none languisheth nor mourneth.
There from lowliness exalted
Dwelleth Mary, Queen of grace,
Ever with her presence pleading
’Gainst the sin of Adam’s race.
To that glory of the blest,
By their prayers and faith confest,
Us, us too, when death hath freed us,
Christ of his good mercy lead us.
—Sequence “Supernae matris gaudia,” Adam of St Victor, c. 1150
Mother Church would aid us in our wilderness pilgrimage of faith, fortifying us by the grace of Christ. And it is always much more than we need. “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost…and they filled twelve baskets” – signifying Christ’s sacramental provision for His apostolic Church. We live graciously from those fragments of the heavenly banquet provided for us by the sacrifice of Christ in the greater wilderness of our sin and death. The gathering up of the fragments is an image of redemption—the gathering up of the broken fragments of our lives, of our broken humanity, of our broken church, in the wilderness of this world—and being gathered back to God. At a time when our earthly church is fractured and broken, we need especially to remember the provisions Christ makes for us even in our brokenness. For the Church is not the four walls of our earthly Jerusalem, but the innumerable multitude of our fellow-citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, united under Christ our Head. But Jesus did not gather up all the fragments Himself; He commanded the people to gather them, “that nothing be lost.” We are the hands and feet, the eyes, ears, and lips of Christ in our world today. The Christian life is about our being gathered to God; about gathering up all the broken shards and pieces of our lives and presenting them to Christ in prayer and praise, in service and sacrifice; and about our gathering others to Him.
Let us use this Lenten season as an opportunity to gather up those fragments, to reflect upon our priorities, and to present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to Him for renewal. Our Lord fed over five thousand people when a small boy offered Him his lunch. What can He do with our gifts—with our lives—if we offer them sincerely and willingly in His service? Prayer and praise, serving Christ by serving others, this is our freedom, our refreshment, and our joy. Through the gathering of those broken and scattered fragments, we are reminded of the true nature and ultimate goal of our Christian pilgrimage…restoration and perfection in Christ.
“Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.”
Collect: O Lord, our heavenly Father, who by the blessed light of thy divine Word hast led us to the knowledge of thy Son: We most heartily beseech thee so to replenish us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that we may ever walk in the light of thy Truth and, rejoicing with sure confidence in Christ our Saviour, may in the end be brought unto everlasting salvation; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer Over the People: Stretch forth, O Lord, upon thy faithful people the right hand of thy heavenly succour: that they may seek thee with their whole heart, and be found worthy to obtain those things which they rightly ask; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
May God bless us and keep us.