Today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is traditionally called Laetare Sunday. This name comes from the Introit (Entrance) antiphon for the day, which begins Laetare Jerusalem or "Rejoice, Jerusalem!" The chant tells us to rejoice, all of us who love Jerusalem, and gather round her, for her sorrow is at an end.
This may seem an odd way to begin the Mass, considering the content of the first reading today (from 2 Chr 36). It tells of the people of Judah "adding infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord's temple... in Jerusalem."
It speaks of God reaching out to them, again and again, but always meeting rejection. "[T]hey mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets." Eventually it got so bad that the enemies of Judah burned down the temple, toppled the walls of Jerusalem, and destroyed all their sacred objects. The people themselves -- those who were not killed -- were exiled into Bablyon where they became slaves.
The Psalm today (Ps 137) is a lamentation of that time in captivity. "By the streams of Bablyon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion." And, "How could we sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten."
And yet today we begin the liturgy by singing, "Rejoice, Jerusalem!" In light of the scriptures today, what is there to rejoice over?
As it turns out, plenty. You see, the story does not end there. The first reading tells of a God who "had compassion on his people," calling out to them again and again. God did not forget or forsake Jerusalem, despite its infidelities. This is an important lesson, for God never ceases to have mercy and compassion on his people. His mercy did not cease when his people were enslaved by the Chaldeans. His mercy did not cease when the Persians came to power, under king Cyrus. His mercy never ceases, despite his people's rejection.
His love and his mercy continued until it reached the level of perfection spoken of in today's Gospel (Jn 3:14-21). This includes the verse that is seen along highways and at football games all across the nation. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." This is the gospel in a nutshell. This is the good news.
We see "John 3:16" plastered in so many places that we tend to not see it any more, and not hear the content of its message. But today, we have St. Paul explaining to us just how much of a mercy this is. "God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ" (from the second reading today, Eph 2:4-10).
And so we rejoice today. Because, like the ancient people of Judah, we have rejected God. We have rejected his prophets, his messengers, his pleas for repentance. We have rejected his love and mercy. But he has not ceased to pour it out upon us. Despite our sins, our transgressions and our failings, God's mercy is constant. In fact, the depths of our failings makes his mercy shine all the brighter. He has given us his Son, not to condemn us, but to save us.
And so, rejoice, Jerusalem! Your sorrow is at an end. Let those of us who love her, who love the ways of the Lord, who have chosen light over darkness, let all of us gather around her. Let us rejoice!
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723