The Fourth Sunday of Lent – Rose Sunday

The Rev. Steven C. Sterry, M.A./M.B.A.

Lessons: Sunday, Holy Day and Commemoration Lectionary — Year B
II Chronicles 36:14–23
Psalm 122
Ephesians 2:1–10
John 6:1–15

 Psalms 120 through 134 are known as the Psalms of Ascent and were sung by worshipers as they made their journey to the Temple in Jerusalem during the three most important feasts of each year.  Psalm 122, which we recited today, is one of four Songs or Psalms of Ascent that are attributed to King David.  It is said that he wrote them for the people to sing at those times of yearly pilgrimage, which were required of all Jews in the Book of Exodus.  

In David’s time, however, there was no Temple.  There was only the Ark of the Covenant inside the Tent of Meeting.   Oh, how David would have longed to worship in the Lord’s Temple.  But God had other plans, and David was a man of war whose hands were covered with the blood of many enemies.  But, ironically, his four Songs of Ascent were chanted for many years, even as the worshipers ascended the steps that lead into the Temple Courtyard that David’s son Solomon built.  Little could David also know, however, that this Temple would fall into ruin some 414 years later because of the sins that Solomon, his son and their sons committed in violation of the covenants made between God and His chosen people, the Jews. 

The opening words of today’s Old Testament Lesson from Second Chronicles provides us with the direct answer as to why the beautiful temple that David had prepared for Solomon to build, was suddenly and totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC: “All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem.”

God, then, as well as now, always remains in control.  During our Morning Prayer sessions, we spent several hours reading and talking about the prophecies of Jeremiah and the doom that he predicted for each of the kingdoms in the Ancient Near East.  Yet, God never abandoned those who followed and obeyed Him.  As long as there were good kings like Josiah and Hezekiah ruling over Jerusalem, God postponed the inevitable.  But eventually, time ran out for those stiff-necked peoples, the Jews, and, as a God who kept his promises, He used Babylon and their Chaldean Dynasty King, Nebuchadnezzar, to exercise His punishment over the Judean Nation. 

But God’s punishment of Judea did not last forever.  For, after God allowed the Chaldeans to ransack and burn the city of Jerusalem and its Temple, God took vengeance on Babylon, where the Persians, with their king, Cyrus, now ruled.  And, during his first year as King, Cyrus proclaimed to the Jews that God had charged him with constructing a new Temple in Jerusalem and that God’s chosen people could return to repair the city and rebuild their Temple.

Today we commemorate the Fourth Sunday in Lent.  It is different from all the other Sundays during the Lenten season and is thus given the title Laetare Sunday.  The word Laetare in its root form, laetari, is a Latin word meaning Rejoice.   And yet, why should we rejoice when we know that in just two weeks we will feel the pangs of Holy Week and its culmination in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ?

I would like to suggest that maybe it is because the lessons for today remind us that there is always hope for all God’s people.  In the case of Old Testament Judah, for example, they have just been told that they can return to their homeland with permission to rebuild both the holy city and its Temple.  People once more would be able celebrate God’s return to them, and they could once more sing those Psalms of Ascent during their pilgrimage to worship the one true God in His Temple.

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul offers the hope of God’s Grace.  As the author of the hymn, Amazing Grace says, “I once was lost, and now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”  In other words, having been dead to trespass and sin, because of the free gift of God’s grace to us, we are saved through faith, and are now able to walk with God in His righteousness.  

In John’s Gospel reading, we are told that Jesus offered hope to his people by healing the sick and by ministering to the needs of the five thousand people who had followed him that day.  The miracle of the bread and the fish was a sign to them, as well as to his disciples, that here was a true prophet and in him, there was hope for the world.  In Jesus healing and feeding of the masses, we learn that through His grace, God will feed us with the spiritual food that we need to sustain our lives here on Earth, as well as in our eternity with Him in Heaven.

As you may have noticed, neither Linda nor I are wearing the usual color of purple that we have previously worn since Ash Wednesday.  This Sunday is known as Mothering Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday, or Rose Sunday.  It is also known as the Sunday of Five Loaves, because we read the Gospel story about the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  Even before the development of common lectionaries, that same Gospel Lesson was read in the Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches on this particular day, exactly 21 days before Easter Sunday.  

In the Roman Catholic Church, it was also the day that a Golden Rose was blessed by the Pope and was then sent to Roman Catholic sovereigns.  Therefore, instead of the Lenten color of purple, rose colored vestments were also permitted on this special Sunday.  

Perhaps we should also call this Sunday Hope Sunday.  After all, it is because of our hope in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are saved, and it is that hope which those who do not know Jesus need to hear.  And perhaps the symbolic color of the rose that we see today is appropriate to remind us that we see the world in a different way than non-Christians.  As Christians, we observe the world through our rose-colored glasses because the Bible and the sacraments give us the power to see the world as God created it.  Therefore, let us do God’s will and help others see God as we do.

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