Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lenten Vespers In the Week of Laetare

John 19:16b-30; Isaiah 66:10-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Fourth Sunday In Lent has the Latin name Laetare, which means rejoice. Laetare is a brief respite in an otherwise penitential season. This respite is traditionally acknowledged in the church by the changing of the liturgical color from purple to rose (pink) for this one week. A similar tradition is observed during the third week of Advent which is called Gaudete, which also means rejoice. The first verse of our First Lesson this evening served as the Antiphon to the Introit on Sunday: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.”
The image is one of motherly love and nurture, and of bountiful comfort and peace. We are to rejoice because Jerusalem herself has been redeemed and restored, and because she has been made to be for us a nurturing mother from whom we receive the LORD’s ever-flowing comfort and peace. And yet, Jerusalem is a nurturing mother and a source of comfort and peace only because the LORD has chosen her to be so and has filled her to overflowing with His love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and peace. Of course, we are not speaking of the earthly Jerusalem which, despite it’s name’s meaning, “Yahweh’s Peace,” has never been at peace, but of the heavenly Jerusalem which comes down from heaven adorned as a bride to be presented to her Bridegroom, to Jesus.
 “I will extend peace to her like a river,” says the LORD, “and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream.” The new Jerusalem is for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. That was always Israel’s calling, to be a light to the Gentiles and to draw them into her fold. Throughout her history, however, she at times succeeded at this missionary endeavor, and at other times she failed miserably, even adopting the false gods and idols of the nations surrounding her. The new Jerusalem will gather her children from all the nations and will be the mother of all.
Of course, her firstborn was Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man. Though she was His mother, He was her Savior and Redeemer. And, though it is confounding to man’s reason and wisdom, she is also His Bride, and He her Bridegroom. For, when it comes to the heavenly Jerusalem and to Her Lord, Son, and Savior Jesus, relationships have been redefined and realized anew. Thus did Jesus say to His mother Mary from the cross concerning His friend and Apostle John, “Woman, behold, your son!” and to John, “Behold, your mother!” A new community, a new family, the Church, was born at that moment at the foot of Jesus’ cross. It is a family in which brothers and sisters of different mothers are born again in Holy Baptism from the watery womb of Mother Church, the new and heavenly Jerusalem, represented here by Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Christians are born again from Her watery womb in Holy Baptism, and they are fed, nourished, and are satisfied from Her consoling breast on the pure milk of the Word of God.
You will recall that Jesus taught the same throughout His ministry. Just a week ago on Oculi, The Third Sunday In Lent, you heard Jesus’ reply to a woman who shouted, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed,” saying, “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” And, another time when someone informed Jesus that His mother and his brothers were present, Jesus answered them saying, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”
Truly, the Church of Jesus Christ is His Bride, for whom He laid down His life unto death on the cross that She might be presented pure, holy, and undefiled. And, the Church is also our Mother, from whose watery womb we are born anew in Holy Baptism, and from whose breasts we are nourished and sustained on the pure milk of the Word of God, and that Word made visible, touchable, and tasteable, the Blessed Sacraments. Thus, the Church is a family, and we are all sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, and together we are His body, His Beloved, and His Bride.
But, we are not such for ourselves alone, but as was intended for Israel and for Jerusalem, we are for the sake of the world. The Church of Jesus Christ is a light shining in the darkness and a city on a hill. And, the light that shines through us is none other than the True Light of the World Jesus Christ. We must take care to hear His Word, to keep it, and to do it. We must not keep His Light to ourselves, or hide it in any way, but we must let it shine brightly in our worship, in our marriages, in our families and in our homes, in our words and our deeds out there in the world where we live our lives and carry out our God-given vocations. However, we must also take care to maintain and keep the Light shining amongst us against the temptation to cater to or to blend in with the surrounding darkness of this world and life. For, as we cannot give to others what we do not first have ourselves, so we cannot be a light shining in the darkness if we blend in with the darkness.
The Church, the New Jerusalem, was born from Jesus’ riven side upon the cross in water and blood. Peace like a river, an overflowing stream flows from Him through Her, that is, through you who keep His Word and do it. “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you love her.” Rejoice that She is your mother, that you are her sons and daughters. Rejoice that She is Jesus’ Bride and that you share in His life and righteousness and Sonship with the Father. And, as you have received comfort and nourishment and peace, so extend the same to others, like an ever-flowing river, to the glory of God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, in His Most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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