Laetare! Rejoice!


Inspired by Song of Songs 4:7–16; Psalm 136:1–16; 1 John 4:7–12; John 3:11–17 as found in A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W

This has been a strange Lent. I’m not sure if any of you are feeling that way, but for me, it’s been a bit odd. I think it’s been partly because of the state of mind I’ve been in. Life has been quite a roller coaster this year so far, complete with ups and downs and loop de loops and even the occasional nausea. I mean, life is usually like that, right? It just seems like this year the roller coaster has been set at high speed! And I have a feeling that I’m not alone. That roller coaster has made plenty of stops here at Bethlehem too. Like most churches these days, financial stress is at an all-time high. That coupled with our very divided society makes for quite a few loop de loops. Churches are having to make decisions that they never thought they’d have to, like making cuts to key staff or ministry programs. Some have even had to close up shop. 

Thankfully, we are nowhere close to that but the threat always seems to be looming around the corner.  However, other than me being away for the month of February, it hasn’t affected our worship life too much. Which is important because if we’re gonna grow, visitors need to have a positive experience here at Sunday worship. Some of you might be thinking, “Well, if that’s the case, Pastor, could you make this sermon a little more positive?” Don’t worry, I’m getting there. I just think it’s healthy to say how many of us are feeling, out loud, first. Especially during this time of year. Lent is all about reexamining our lives, taking stock of our relationship with God and others, and identifying where we need a course correction, where we need to improve. 

But when you’re already feeling knocked down, Lent can feel like it’s just kicking you while you’re down. And that’s coming from someone whose favorite season is Lent! But even I am struggling with this one! And then I was reading a book the other day and I came across something I hadn’t heard of before, Laetare Sunday. Just curious, have any of you heard of Laetare Sunday? Where? From what I’ve read, many Anglican, Catholic, and Lutherans celebrate this day but I’ve never heard of it before, and I grew up Lutheran and went to a Lutheran seminary! However, the more I read about it, the more that didn’t matter to me, because it turned out to be a beautiful tradition that I wish more Lutherans would celebrate!  And here’s why. First of all, the word Laetare is Latin for “rejoice.” 

It’s a reference to an Isaiah passage which way back in the day used to be one of the readings on every fourth Sunday of Lent. And so, it became known as Laetare Sunday. But even after common lectionaries became a thing, and that Isaiah passage was no longer read on every fourth Sunday of Lent, the traditions of Laetare Sunday were just too deeply embedded, and so they stuck, and these traditions are quite profound. At its most basic, it marks the halfway point of Lent. Which might sound insignificant, but you gotta remember, some Christians take Lent very sacrificially! Like abstaining from certain foods or drinks, or certain activities. So, being told that you’re halfway there, that the finish line is now in sight, is anything but insignificant for a lot of people! However, on an even more profound note, it’s a respite. 

It's a respite from the somber nature of Lent. And let’s be honest, somber is being kind. Sometimes it’s downright depressing. Trust me, I get quite a few eye rolls when I tell people that it’s my favorite season! And I get it, Lent can not only be somber, but it can also be quite challenging, even intrusive. So, another tradition on this day is to change the color of the day from purple, to what they call “rose” but is often just straight-up pink, which may be why not everyone celebrates it! Thank you to Roberta for putting together some “rose” for us today! But it’s this focus on rejoicing, in the middle of Lent, that really spoke to me today. Which is why our first hymn was a very un-Lenty kind of hymn! And so will the others be today. Not only is it a nice break from the norm, but it sure seems like it’s needed right now. 

Our readings for today do a great job of pushing us into a rejoicing state of being. Our first reading is from Song of Songs. We did a series last summer on the Bible’s wisdom literature and it included a few passages from this book. It was pretty spicy at times, but you couldn’t help but walk away from it feeling just in love with love, no matter the kind of love. In this passage we have two lovers absolutely in awe of one another, just head over heels for each other! For those of us who have experienced that kind of love, we know that not only is it wonderful, but it’s also a bit scary, and not at all rational, is it? Sometimes it makes us say and do the funniest things, all in the name of love! Kind of how our passage started with, “All of you is beautiful, my beloved companion, there is no flaw in you.” Ok, how do you read that and not roll your eyes! 

I mean, I love my wife, Sara, but she ain’t perfect! And if any of you tell her I said that, I will deny, deny, deny! Seriously though, isn’t that the way love can be? And not just romantic love but any kind of love. It just makes us believe the silliest things. But it also makes us see the best in others. Makes us sacrifice for others. And who cares if it don’t make sense when you’re simply in love with love! And to think, the author of Song of Songs wrote this to show you just how crazy in love God is with you! And if that ain’t worth rejoicing over, I don’t know what is! Our Psalmist continues the theme of rejoicing, but through the lens of thankfulness. Thankfulness for not only the mighty deeds of God that the Psalmist lists, but mostly for the everlasting faithful love of God. Hesed is the Hebrew word used here. 

It refers to a deep love that is filled with trust, and covenantal promise; a love that is not controlled by conditions. Again, if that’s not worth rejoicing over, I don’t know what is. And the next two authors continue to drive this home like no other. Talk about being in love with love. If this was a baseball game, Song of Songs is on third, our Psalmist is on second, First John is, well, on first, telling us that not only is God filled with love, but that God is love. The Gospel of John is up to bat and what happens next? Someone call it! Grand slam! Can you tell I’m ready for baseball? John hits it outta the park, clearing the bases, with “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 

And we can’t leave out the next verse, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” There’s so much in these readings to rejoice over, where do we even begin? It doesn’t matter. Begin anywhere. Just begin somewhere. This is our respite, from the hard work of Lent. Take advantage of it, my friends. This is Laetare. Rejoice! For no matter how tough you are on yourself during this season, or any season of the year, this is your reminder, that at the end of the day, you are loved, no matter what. This is your reminder that when all is said and done, God looks at you and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, as she invites us to our ultimate respite, in her tender arms. Rejoice! Amen.

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