Sunday, 14 March 2021 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday marks the Fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, which means that we are already more than halfway through this blessed time of preparation for the coming of the most important celebrations of our faith during the Holy Week and the season of Easter. And this Sunday particularly, as we may have seen from the distinctive rose vestments, used only twice in the entire liturgical year, we mark the occasion of Laetare Sunday.

Together with Gaudete Sunday in the Advent season, Laetare Sunday and the rose vestments used today mark the more joyful focus of our Lenten commemoration, a slight departure from the usually more sombre and penitential nature of the rest of the Lenten season. Just as Gaudete Sunday marks the joyful aspect of our Advent preparation for the coming of our joy in Christmas, in the coming of the Lord and Saviour of the world, thus this Laetare Sunday marks the joyful aspect of our preparation for the true joy of Easter.

This word Laetare comes from the Introit of today’s celebration of the Holy Mass, ‘Laetare Jerusalem, et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam, gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis’ which means ‘Rejoice, o Jerusalem, and gather round all you who love her, rejoice in gladness after having been in sorrow’. Therefore today’s celebration, together with the readings from the Scripture that we have heard just earlier on, we are reminded that while during this season of Lent we lament, regret and are sorrowful over our sins, and desiring to repent from those sins, we also have the joyful hope of the Lord’s salvation and assurance of His love, for through His mercy and compassion, He has willingly forgiven us all.

In our first reading today, we heard of the account from the Second Book of Chronicles, detailing what had happened at the end of the southern kingdom of Judah, the last remnant of the old kingdom of Israel, of David and Solomon. That kingdom was destroyed by the Babylonians who came and overpowered the people of Judah, whose sins and disobedience against God made them to suffer and endure humiliation, as they witnessed the destruction of their city, of Jerusalem and its Temple, the House of God and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant and not only that, but also their exile to Babylon.

They had been cast out from their own homeland and forced to wander as exiles in foreign lands, forced to endure shame and humiliation as those who had ignored the Lord’s constant reminders and love, and ended up being humbled and torn apart from their own lands and livelihood. They had to endure the exile and shame for many decades under the reign of the Babylonians, and some like Daniel and his friends had to contend with those who did not worship God and they had to worship in secret, but all was not lost for them, as God, Who had called and chosen them to be His first chosen ones, still loved them and wanted to be reconciled with them.

Thus, we heard in the same reading of the return of the exiles of Israel to their homeland under the emancipation of king Cyrus of Persia, the great king who was often hailed as liberator and God’s servant in allowing the people of Israel to return to their homeland and to worship the Lord as they had once previously done. Eventually the city of Jerusalem and the Temple itself would be rebuilt by the guidance of the prophet Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s servants who renewed His Covenant with the people of Israel and their descendants.

Truly, this is a most joyful event, and we can just imagine the joy of those people who came to see their homeland again after many decades in exile, and those who saw the Temple of Jerusalem being rebuilt once again after it had been left as piles of rubble for quite some time. God has reached out to His people and showed them His love and compassionate mercy, and as long as they were willing to turn away from their sinful ways and repent, He would bless them and gather them in once again, to enjoy the blessed fruits of His grace.

But God did not just stop there, for He has also promised all of us, the sons and daughters of mankind, the salvation and liberation from all of our sins, from the tyranny of death and evil. He has promised us all from the beginning that He shall not abandon us and will always be with us to the end. And in our Gospel passage today we heard the Lord, Our Saviour Himself proclaiming this truth and the fulfilment of God’s promises through Him. When the Lord Jesus spoke of the coming of the Saviour of the world, the Son of God sent into this world for ‘God so loved the world’ He was referring to Himself.

Let us recall what has happened, brothers and sisters in Christ, that just how the people of Israel had disobeyed and refused to listen to the words of the Lord and those of His prophets and messengers, thus we have also been disobedient and defiant, refusing to follow the way of the Lord ever since sin entered into our hearts and minds, into our midst by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, our ancestors. And thus, just like the Babylonians conquering the kingdom and the people of Judah, sending the survivors into exile, thus sin has conquered us, and the devil and all of his agents had gained dominion over us.

That was why we have been struck out and cast out of Eden, where we ought to have dwelled and where we should have enjoyed the most wonderful fruits of God’s grace. Yet, we fell and were cast out of Eden to wander this world in exile, to suffer the consequences of our sins, just as the people of Judah and the rest of Israel having to endure shame, humiliation and persecution from others. By our sins we have been made outcasts and derided by those who see us.

Yet, God did not give up on us. He could have crushed, annihilated and destroyed us from the very beginning if He had wanted it to be that way. He could have just erased us all from existence, as we are after all unworthy, having been corrupted and defiled by the taints of our sins. God’s love for us however is greater even than all these, and He Who created us all out of love as the pinnacle of His creation certainly does not want to see us destroyed.

To that extent, He listened to our cries for mercy and desire to seek forgiveness, just as once Moses and the people pleaded before Him to spare them the destruction. At that time, during the Exodus, the Israelites disobeyed the Lord and sinned against Him, which resulted in fiery serpents sent into their midst, and killed many among them. The people begged Moses to intercede for them before the Lord, and thus, they sought forgiveness for their sins.

God told Moses to craft a great standard of a bronze serpent on a pole, and to put it in a prominent place for everyone to see it. All those who were bitten by the serpents and then saw the bronze serpent of Moses would not perish and die, but live. Through this comparison, the Lord told Nicodemus the Pharisee in our Gospel passage today, highlighting how He Himself would show all the people, all of mankind, the same salvation in God, by being lifted up Himself on the Cross for all to see.

Those fiery serpents and their deadly stings represent the sting of sin which is death, and a reminder that the consequence of our disobedience against God is nothing less than death, and because of sin, we have consciously rejected God’s love and favour, and therefore should have deserved eternal damnation and suffering. Yet, the Lord Who loved us His people wanted to show us the way out, and to save us just as He has saved the Israelites in the past.

That is why, out of His great and enduring love for each and every one of us, God sent us all His ultimate gift and the perfect manifestation and proof of His love, by giving us all His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, to be our Lord and Saviour. He came into this world to heal us and to save us from the tyranny of sin, and He did so by taking upon Himself all the burdens of our sins, all the multitudes of those sins, and bore them on His own shoulders. He did not want death to reign over us, and He wants us to live with Him, to be reconciled to God.

And it is for this reason that while we prepare ourselves in this season of Lent, repentant and sorrowful over our sins, we are also joyful because thanks to the Lord, we now have hope once again, the hope of the everlasting life and eternal joy that He has promised us through His Cross, His suffering and death, and finally through His Resurrection. We rejoice because we have seen the light of God’s salvation and are happy because of the love that He has for us.

Through Christ, all of us have been guaranteed a freedom from the tyranny of sin and death. But, what we need to realise is that, unless we commit ourselves to the Lord and follow Him, we cannot fully embrace all of these. We have to put our faith in the Lord and believe that it is through Him that we can be freed from the bondage of sin, and seek Him for forgiveness, to ask for forgiveness from our many sins, which He shall gladly grant to us, if we are willing to repent and turn away from those sinful ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are about to enter into the most holy and wonderful mysteries of the Holy Week and Our Lord’s Passion very soon. Are we able and willing to make good use of the remaining time in Lent to prepare ourselves well so that we can remind ourselves of the need for us to be faithful to God and to remain focused on Him? We are called to turn away from our rebelliousness and our wayward path, to be genuine and faithful Christians once again, as God’s worthy children and as His beloved people.

Let us make good use of this time and opportunity given to us by the Lord so that we may come to realise the folly of our ways and our stubbornness, and be humble and willing to seek God’s ever loving presence, asking to be forgiven from our many sins, and that we may sin no more and turn away from all the corruptions of those sins. May all of us be courageous in resisting the allures and the temptations of sin, and help one another in our daily struggles, by being good role models in our Christian faith and living.

Therefore, let this joy we celebrate today in this Laetare Sunday be the prelude to the true joy that we are to have in the Lord, through the full and genuine reconciliation between us and Him, as we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to Him, to be freed from the tyranny of sin and death, be freed from evil and wicked deeds and thoughts, and be ever more faithful as Christians in our daily lives. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

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