Rejoice and Exult! – Fourth Sunday of Lent
Today’s Gospel includes a verse that is one of the most quoted lines from scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave up his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Reminders of John 3:16 appear at hockey games, football games, ads on buses and on billboards in the middle of wheat fields.
Usually it is just presented as the phrase John 3:16. It shows up in some odd places. A popular fast-food chain in the USA prints it on the bottom rim of their paper cups. A popular clothing chain prints it on the bottom of their shopping bags. Some Christians refer to this verse as the Gospel in a nutshell, precisely because it is seen as a summary of the central theme of Christianity: the Incarnation, namely our salvation through God’s loving act of sending the Second Person of the Trinity.
In his exercise on the Incarnation, St. Ignatius of Loyola has us imagine the world into which God sends the Second Person:
“This is a mental representation of the place. It will be here to see the great extent of the surface of the earth, inhabited by so many different peoples … those on the face of the earth, in such great diversity in dress and manner of acting. Some are white, some black; some at peace, and some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into the world, and some dying; etc.”
He elaborates on the diversity in the world and the hatred, killings and other manifestations of a need for a savior.
Our world today is very much in need of salvation. I recall not so many years ago that there was talk of a peace dividend. It was after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Peace dividend was a political slogan popularized by US President George H.W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the early 1990s, purporting to describe the economic benefit of a decrease in defence spending. It is used primarily in discussions relating to the guns versus butter theory.
The term was frequently used at the end of the Cold War, when many Western nations significantly cut military spending. I think that it is safe to say that we are no longer living in a time of a peace dividend, thanks to leaders in the US, Russia, China, North Korea, and other nations. President Trump wants to have a parade of military might. We’ve moved closer to midnight on the doomsday clock. Hardly a time of peace!
We need to truly believe and act as if God has not abandoned us. This will help us to stay hopeful and optimistic and determined to act for justice. It’s crucial to our Lenten journey that we open our eyes to the world. It is not an option for us to pull a blanket over our heads and pretend the world doesn’t exist. But it is also crucial that we reflect on the ways in which God stays with us in the pain of the world.
This Fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Laetare Sunday, a day for rejoicing. This comes from the Entrance Antiphon, from Isaiah 66:10-11. Rejoice Jerusalem! Let’s name reasons to rejoice!