Reflection for the Vigil of the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)
By Eleanor Suther, OSB
Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-21, John 3:14-21
(Sunday readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10, John 3:14-21)
We know the darkness. Every night when we turn on the news we hear of violence and bloodshed in our city streets, all across the country. We hear of terrible violence in the Mideast and North Africa, in the former republics of the Soviet Union. We are vaguely alarmed by the prospect of global warming, and what it can mean for our world. We are horrified by the occasional tragedies of whole factories with their workers going up in flames, where underpaid men, women and children work in substandard conditions to produce cheap goods for our consumer culture. We are glad to turn off the TV, glad it’s happening over there and not here.
In moments of insight we recognize our complicity in the exploitation of peoples through our addiction to first world lifestyles. Even in this home of the “free and the brave” we are so attached to our individual freedoms that we cannot see or care about the common good. Our political process becomes a war of words, deception, self promotion, and manipulation between competing self interests.
And if we look at our individual lives honestly during this Lenten season, we can find some of that same individualism, or old enmities, self delusion, self protection and self deception.
If we read tomorrow’s first reading, we are reminded that it was always so. God keeps trying to give his people a new start, but inevitably they mess up and the darkness returns. Even when God gives them a new clear code, those ten commandments, a way to live in mutual love and respect, we choose our own way and use those very commandments to justify ourselves and condemn others.
In one of those attempts at a new start, Scripture tells the story of how the people grumbled against God and against Moses. And God sent poisonous serpents to get their attention and then offers them salvation through the image of one of those very serpents, a sign of their failure and a call to live differently.
Jesus came to give us a new start, to teach us a new way. He went about preaching and healing. He sent his disciples out to preach the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness and a call to live in God’s love. Only in living in God’s love, loving as God loves, will we individually, and humanity as a whole, find salvation.
But this new start also seems to end in tragedy—in failure. Jesus is rejected by the people, abandoned by his followers and seemingly even by the Father. In that failure, in that darkness, Jesus takes on all our darkness, that hopelessness we feel before our deteriorating society, before our own sinfulness, our own participation in the works of darkness.
But failure is not the last word. God raises Jesus up to new life and offers us the free gift of new life in Jesus. In God’s mercy, we are forgiven and called to live in the light of God’s love. Through our baptism we are given a participation in God’s life of love and the grace and power to live it. We are joined with Christ and all our brothers and sisters who want to walk in the light of God’s love.
It is pretty clear that without God’s grace we very readily fall back into darkness. But God’s mercy is endless. God always makes room within God’s self for each of us, even the godless ones, even those not looking for forgiveness. We are invited to return, to live in communion with God, and to love as God loves.
On this Laetare Sunday we catch a glimpse of Easter joy…the promise of Resurrection and new life. As we continue in this Lenten journey may we come to a new awareness of the failure of our human solutions and our complete dependence on God’s solution.
May we walk joyfully in the light of God’s love manifested in Jesus, baptized into his death and empowered by the grace of His life within us. May we who have been shown mercy, joyfully offer mercy to one another.
May that light shining through us and all the Body of Christ, renewed this Lenten season, enlighten and give hope to our darkened world.