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Lindemann on Lent IV (Laetare)

by revalkorn ~ April 1st, 2011

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, LAETARE

The name of this Sunday is startling and indicates a marked change in the tone of the Propers. A day of rejoicing in the midst of Lent! One explanation is that in ancient times Lent began on the following days, and this Sunday was regarded somewhat like Mardi gras. Later, when Lent was extended to forty days, this Sunday was considered as mid-Lent, when the stern regulations were relaxed for a day. Another is that the ancient Church rejoiced over the candidates for Holy Baptism whose second birth was soon to take place. Again, the Holy Gospel states that the Passover was at hand, and the Church, with Easter approaching rapidly, could no longer contain her joy and engaged in anticipatory rejoicing. One other explanation: This Sunday was the festival of springtime. We, too, rejoice over the resurrection of nature. The heavenly Giver is preparing to bring about a great multiplication of bread on our fields. But this springtime of nature is only a picture of the holy springtime which the Easter Festival brings into the land of the Church and of the soul.

Easter is not far away! This is the thought that influences and dominates the Liturgy of this day. For the past Sundays the Introits have been veritable groans and pleas “out of the depths.” Today the Service begins with Laetare! “Rejoice!” The Collect speaks of “the comfort of Thy grace.” The Epistle emphasizes the true freedom of the children “born according to the Spirit.” The Gradual repeats the cheerful note of the Introit: “I was glad.” The Holy Gospel partially accounts for another name of this Sunday, “The Lord’s Day of Refreshment,” and tells of the refreshment in the giving of the bounteous Christ.

The Introit. “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all ye that love her. Rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.”

Here is a call for jubilant Easter joy. Soon Lent will be over. Soon the new children will be born to the Church. The catechumens have passed through the various stages of preparation and on last Sunday renounced the devil and submitted to the Rite of Exorcism. Today they announce their allegiance to God. It is the Lord’s Day of Redemption from the Worship of Idols. Soon the candidates will be born into the Church through Holy Baptism. Jerusalem, the mother of the faithful, has cause for joy, as have the catechumens who will soon be born into the Church. So the Service opens: “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with [for] her, all ye that love her!” Psalm 122 is most appropriate on this day, when the catechumens were admitted to the hearing of the Holy Gospel, as it was read, explained, and applied. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.”

The Collect. “Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of Thy grace may mercifully be relieved.”

This is a collect of refreshment. It provides the one stern note, yet this is softened by the reference to “the comfort of Thy grace.” We deserve punishment both here and hereafter, anything but refreshment. But as children of God’s grace we pray for the comfortable relief of full forgiveness and acceptance, and the sure supply of all our needs through the power of Him who fed the five thousand in the wilderness. “Relieved” suggests that someone lifts something from us, that someone else is carrying or providing for a burden that rested on us. What relief and rest when it is lifted! Lent’s lesson is only half learned if we stop with the conviction of sin.

The Epistle (Gal. 4:21-31). The parable of the two mothers, the wives of Abraham, illustrates our good fortune in contrast with the situation of the Jew under the Law. We are free children of God and heirs of heaven. One cannot read this lesson without regretting that the climax provided in the first verse of the fifth chapter was not included: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” On this day the catechumens had the Formula of Faith, the Creed, imparted to them as a whole for the first time, likewise the Our Father. The Epistle contrasts the slavery of the Law and the flesh with the freedom of the child of God, born according to the Spirit, the children of the heavenly Jerusalem. Catechumens and faithful could rejoice because they were called, they are free, their walk is free. Christ refreshes and quickens on the way, for He gives the Bread of Life. Where there is a real sense of sinfulness and sorrow and shame, and a knowledge of the consequences, God meets the soul with the comfort of His grace.

The Gradual. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.”

The Tract. “They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even forever.”

On this day the candidates for Holy Baptism were formally led into the Jerusalem of Christendom. In the Introit they rejoiced over the invitation to go into the house of the Lord. As they in their white robes joined the faithful, so we shall someday enter the heavenly Jerusalem. “The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” We have a most glorious mother, who provides us with the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life and is a wall of defense against all attacks.

The Proper Sentence. “Christ hath humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

The Gospel (St. John 6:1-13 ). This is more than the record of a miracle. If we read the entire sixth chapter, we sense that some deep spiritual wonder is being revealed. Our Lord makes the necessity of the multitude, their weariness, their hunger, His own. He does more. He mercifully relieves it, provides for it.

The Proper Preface. “Who on the tree of the cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, thence life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame likewise by a tree be overcome, through Christ, our Lord; through whom,” etc.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

Lent begins with the consideration Of sin and ends with teaching as to the gift of pardon through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. The transition be-tween the two great subjects takes place on Mid-Lent Sunday. Grieved and wearied with the struggle against temptation, we are today invited to enjoy a Dominica refectionis, a Sunday of sacred refreshment, “lest we be wearied and faint in our minds, striving against sin.” We pass from the Sundays of temptation to a Sunday of grace, which is brought before us in two aspects: The Grace of Adoption and the Grace of Sanctification. By an allegory taken from the two sons of Abraham, each of whom stood in a different relation to his father, Christians are taught their happy relation to God as His children by grace and their consequent duty.

The Grace of Adoption

A. Jewish Bondage. Ishmael owed his slavery to his mother Hagar, the slave wife, a type of the Jewish Church, “the present Jerusalem.” (1) She wanders in the dreary desert of the Law. (2) She is able to give her children only a share of her own bondage. To the Jews the service of God was a burden grievous to be borne, for God was to them more of a Master than a heavenly Father.

B. Christian Freedom. Isaac owed his happy freedom to his mother, the chosen and beloved wife. Sarah, the free mother, whose children are born free, is a figure of the Christian Church, “the Jerusalem above.” As the position of the mother determined the relation of the child to the father, so the very fact that we belong to the Christian Church by our Baptism determines our relation to God and makes us His children. It is because we are members of Christ that we are children of God and have received the “one Baptism for the remission of sins.” The word “covenant” practically means relation, or position, and a covenant of bondage means, therefore, a relation of bondage, and a covenant of grace a relation or position of grace. The word conveys no idea of mutual bargain or condition. We are what God has made us.

C. Christian Service. It is the service of sons, which is more than that of slaves. The son submits his will to his father, the slave only his outward conduct to his master. The son gives what the slave withholds, and for this reason we are tempted to prefer slavery; but if he gives more, he receives more; for if he must say, “I am my father’s,” he can say also, “My father is mine.” From this comes conscious dignity and liberty, the power of confident prayer and thankful praise. The son serves not for favor but as one in favor, not for wages but as a debtor to infinite Love. While the thought of the crown before him gives him joy, his true motive is the Cross behind him. That such service brings refreshment is the teaching of the Church on Refreshment Sunday. Our Lenten observance is not to be a dull and heavy burden, but a willing offering. This will be the secret of influence, for a dull and joyless Church wins few victories. It is the joy of faith that conquers the world. We are, therefore, to “cast out the slave” as children of the free woman.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

The teaching of our adoption given in the Epistle is fitly completed by the Holy Gospel of the refreshment given to the children of God. We are bidden to seek from the Lord all we need for soul and body.

The Grace of Sanctification

A. The Need of Refreshment. In the wilderness of the world we need refreshment. Our Lord’s sympathy anticipates our wants, for the first suggestion of relief was made by Him, and before the need had been felt — “seeing that a multitude was coming to Him.” He has tender sympathy with the masses of mankind, though, and indeed because He can individualize each one. He was never too weary for acts and thoughts of love.

B. The Source of Refreshment. Our Lord would have us feel our poverty and inability in order that we may be driven to turn to Him for relief. How poor are human thoughts compared with the thoughts of Christ, and how insignificant are human resources as seen in the “five barley loaves and two fish”! Poor five thousand! If they had had to depend on the disciples, they would not have had a crumb apiece! Poor Church if she depends on us! Our Lord drew out faith from a sense of need in the disciples, and also raised the faith and expectation of the multitude by His command, “Make the people sit down.” See the five thousand sitting, waiting! To wait upon Christ is the secret of sanctification. “Blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Is. 30:18). They shall never go away empty from sermon, prayer, or Sacrament.

C. The Miracle of Refreshment. This great miracle teaches that our Lord, and He alone, has power to satisfy human hearts. Our Lord can satisfy our human nature, and nothing else can, not the world, sin, pleasure, high position, learning, health, or wealth. Our Lord alone is Bread to us, solid, satisfying, sustaining, living, and life-giving. If we feed upon Him in all that He is and in all that He has done for us, in all His aspects and characters, we shall not want. See the bread multiplying in our Savior’s hands. He goes on breaking so long as the least child remains unsatisfied. We shall find in Christ more than we ever expected to want, we who have wanted more than we ever expected to find. If Christ blesses the meal, the supply will never run short.

Today is indeed a Refreshment Sunday, with its two views of grace, and a Sacrament provided for the supply of each, for by Holy Baptism we are made the children of God, and by the Eucharist the children of God are fed.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

On Refreshment Sunday the words of the Thanksgiving assume special significance: “We give thanks to Thee, Almighty God, that Thou hast refreshed us through this salutary gift.” For refreshment we celebrate the Holy Communion with our Lord. He who supplied the bodily need of the five thousand in the wilderness offers us an abundance of food to sustain the new life God has given us. The incarnate God is the Tree of Life in the new Eden into which He has transplanted us. He gives Himself to us in and through the Gospel, the glad news that He gave His body and shed His blood for our redemption. We eat of Him when we put our trust in Him and His death, when we appropriate by faith all that the Gospel offers. This faithful eating of the Tree of Life refreshes, strengthens faith, gives new confidence and courage. It gives life. The man who eats so shall not die but live by Christ forever.

After our Lord had fed the five thousand, He declared: “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life . . . abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me.”

The Liturgy lifts our hearts far above this sordid earth. We lift our hearts unto the Lord. Our Lord comes to us in the Word that He gave His body and shed His blood for our redemption. We eat His Body and drink His Blood together with the Bread and Wine. In spirit we stand under the open windows of our future home and join the choir of the angels and redeemed in singing: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! We have a foretaste of heaven and are refreshed.

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