Rejoice! Salvation is Here: 4th Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
Theme: “Rejoice! Salvation is Here”
Point of reflection: Fourth Sunday of Lent is called “Laetare Sunday”, which simply means a Sunday of rejoicing. What are we rejoicing? And why are we rejoicing? Salvation has come. Do I recognise that salvation has come? Jesus Christ is the redeemer; the readings of today offers such a liberating aspect of salvation.
First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14–16, 19–23
Psalm: Psalm 137:1–6
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4–10
Gospel: John 3:14–21
Sermon (Reflection): The mother Church rightly places in the middle of Lent a celebration of the Sunday of rejoicing. Rejoicing is a natural response to what makes us happy. Todays’ liturgy identifies and invites us to reflect on, several reasons why we as Christians should feel happy and rejoice. The first and main reason for our rejoicing is that God has offered us life that even death cannot destroy, we call this gift simply “salvation.” Jesus came into the world on a mission from the Father to make salvation possible for all who accept Him with faith.
He offered us the possibility of eternal life regardless of nationality, race, gender, or social status. We can further say, the reason we need to celebrate the rejoicing Sunday during Lenten period is to understand that redemption is here at hand. There is no redemption and salvation without Jesus’ passion and death.
The rejoicing character is perfectly manifested and demonstrated by the fourth Sunday of Lent Scriptural readings. The first reading is appealing to the edict of Cyrus and declaring that God’s salvific purpose would not be undermined by human infidelity. Neither can his faithfulness be frustrated by human unfaithfulness (Cf. 2 Chronicles 36:14–16, 19–23).
The point to the first reading comes from the Book of Chronicles which contains a sweeping account of the entire Israelite history, starting with Adam, the first human being, and ending with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the Babylonian exile in 586 BC. The author of Chronicles concluded that these tragedies occurred because of the breaking of the covenant which left the nation exposed to its powerful enemies, with predictably disastrous effects. One might be tempted to see this history as a tale of disaster.
However, the book also makes it abundantly clear that, despite the nations’ infidelity, God did not abandon or disown his people permanently. On the contrary, for the Chronicler, the future is full of hope, because God bound himself to the people with faithful covenantal love. It is God’s commitment and not the nation’s failures, that will determine the people’s destiny. This is the very reason for us Christians to rejoice because in one way or another we have failed and we have lost hope but God does not abandon us. He has given us salvation through the crucified Jesus Christ. Humanity has been liberated.
Quite interesting to note in the first reading is the decree of Cyrus announcing “liberation” which concludes today’s first reading was good news to the exiled Israelites. Undoubtedly, they saw it as a sign and a proof of God’s salvific intentions and love, which remained unchanged.
Thus, the Chronicler interprets Israel’s tragic history not as a tale of disaster, but rather a story of hope. Concluding his account with the edict of Cyrus, the author proclaims God’s enduring commitment to the project of salvation, and he declares God’s salvific purpose which the people’s unfaithfulness would not frustrate. During this Lenten period, what we need is HOPE and turn away from our evil ways as God is full of love and compassion. Salvation is here!
The second reading of the fourth Lenten Sunday points to the reality that salvation has been accomplished in the present time by Jesus and that it can be already enjoyed by faith in anticipation of its fullness in the future (Ephesians 2:4–10). For St Paul, salvation is a gratuitous gift of God to all believers, regardless of their ethnic identity. My brothers and sisters, you will not be saved because you are white or black, South African or Malawian, coloured or blue, Xhosa or Zulu, No! Salvation is for everyone who does the will of the Father and lives a righteous life.
Anyone can partake in this salvation, provided they have faith in Jesus Christ, who has made this salvation possible through his death and resurrection. St Paul emphatically states this, saying, “by grace you have been saved through faith”. St Paul’s message to the Ephesians is, therefore, a jubilant proclamation that salvation now becomes available to all, without any distinctions or discrimination, on the sole basis of faith in God’s Son.
St Paul emphasises that this was God’s intention from the very beginning of time, and was fulfilled in and through Jesus. Those who believe in him can already celebrate and rejoice in their salvation, hence, Laetare Sunday: a Sunday of rejoicing, Salvation is here!
The Gospel reading of fourth Sunday reveals the depth of God’s saving love for humanity, revealed on the cross where Jesus was lifted up for the salvation of the world(Cf. John 3:14–21). The evangelist John presents the mission of the Son of God as an expression of God’s love, intent on the redemption of humanity and the offering of eternal life to believers. This view is enshrined in one of the most celebrated verses of John’s Gospel: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”.
Today’s Gospel reading comes from an extensive, theological exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Nicodemus, a Jewish scholar and a Pharisee, was a perfect conversation partner for Jesus who intended to discuss God’s reasons for sending his Son, that is himself, into the world. The concluding part of this conversation read today, reveals that God’s purpose for Jesus’ mission was the salvation of the world. John understands salvation as the gift of eternal life, a theme that recurs throughout the conversation. He also wanted to explain God’s reasons for, and the means through which, this gift of eternal life comes to the people. This is the reason to rejoice.
God’s reasons are explicitly stated by John in the words: “God so loved the world”. The gift of eternal life is offered because of God’s love for humanity. The way through which this gift was offered is revealed by an allusion to the story from Numbers 21:4-9. There, the Israelites journeying through the wilderness grumbled against the Lord and his servant Moses, completely forgetting the goodness of the Lord and his constant provision that nourished them in the desert. This blatant disregard and ingratitude towards God brought out the fiery serpents whose poisonous bites caused death.
When Moses interceded for the ungrateful and obstinate people, God ordered him to make a bronze image of a poisonous serpent and raise it high on a pole. Looking at this elevated object representing death brought healing and rescue from the poison. Quoting this story, John refers to Jesus’ cross. In the desert, the bronze serpent – the tool of death – became the source of healing. On Calvary, Jesus lifted on the cross – the tool of death – becomes the giver of eternal life. God’s salvation came through the cross. Jesus’ “lifting up” was a direct reference to the divine saving act.
Again, the human response to this divine act is believing in Jesus, the saviour acting on behalf of the loving author of life – God. During this Lenten period, let us accept that Jesus Christ is the saviour and because He has saved us then, we can rejoice in the Lord, salvation is at hand!
Listening to the Word of God “Rejoice! The Salvation is at Hand”
Salvation is at hand! Let us repent to receive the Easter glory with a clean heart. Dear Friends of God, God’s love is gratuitous and permanent. The Salvation is here! We have done nothing to deserve God’s grace, love, and salvation. This is a liberating thought because it means that we do not have to worry about doing something special or being perfect to receive these blessings. They are offered to us unconditionally. Even more so, they are always there! The first reading shows that despite the nation’s failures, God’s promise remained unchanged. Beside our human weaknesses, God has not taken away the salvation and redemption act. God loves us and we need to rejoice that He has offered salvation to us.
As it is a Laetare Sunday today, the cause for our rejoicing is the realization that, even though like the Israelites we often fall short of living out our faith ideals, and are weighed down by our failures and sins, God’s pledge of salvation will never be withdrawn. Our destiny is full of hope, because our God is faithful, and determined to sustain us despite our imperfections and sinfulness. We have a Father who awaits us with extended arms, holding in them the gift of life in a gesture of offering to those who wish to reach for it, even if they happen to be the prodigal sons or daughters. Our duty today as we progress in this Lenten journey is to return to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness so that we attain in glory on Easter Sunday.
Of course, rejoicing in the middle of Lent is about reminding ourselves why we observe this season in the first place. We do so to train ourselves to believe and trust in God’s offer of salvation, so that we might orient our whole life towards eternal life. Knowing that this is our future, and contemplating Christ on the cross as the source of eternal life, we indeed have every reason to rejoice even as we journey through Lent, and, indeed, through life often full of “snake bites”. Since we have a faithful God and Father we rejoice, because while these bites sting, they are not deadly!
My dear brothers and sister, today we are reminded to rejoice despite these afflictions we encounter every day, because we know that when we face these difficulties moments with faith they lose their power to harm us permanently. Because of God’s gift of salvation, delivered through Jesus’ cross, no evil power in this life can separate us from God’s love that leads to salvation. This is indeed a reason to rejoice!
Action: I (we) need to rejoice in the Lord this week because salvation is at hand. I (we) need to continue to clean my (our) hearts. My (our) prayer during this week will be that of thanksgiving for God’s salvation offered to me (us) through His Son.
Prayer: God of love, You are the source of true happiness, as we celebrate “Laetare Sunday” which is the Sunday of Rejoicing, heal our wounds which causes unhappiness with jealousy and envy, and increase our faith in Jesus Christ and make us worthy to rejoice in the fullness of our salvation,we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, Amen.
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