We live in our time, born in years and months and days, with luck, stretching through decades. We are born to beliefs, experiences, possibilities; we are born well within the structure and shadows of human systems. There are layers to the human birthright– parents and lifestyle, class and race, ethnicity and gender. Those define so much of who we are, how we communicate and even what we dream and hope for. Some seem to escape the tentacles of these varied factors and burst into privilege and celebrity seemingly and enviably unscathed by human trauma or suffering. But there are so many more of us who have found nobility, honor and hope in the labor of simply being alive. For those, reality profers a rare richness and a consoling comfort, a promising pragmatism. The fullness and emptiness of the human lifespan finds meaning, significance and purpose in all the simplicity of being. And so in this fourth week of Lent, Laetare Sunday, it is the simplicity of living the Light.
John’s Gospel lingers with the image of light but does more than that. The opening verses describe the profound purpose of Jesus’ presence in the world: not to condemn, but to invite to belief in a God who neither castigates nor compels. Instead, this is a God who tenderly invites, shares and sacrifices for love. The believer, in response, embraces that love and then extends the same to others; the halo of light is enhanced and becomes even more of a gift.
There is a second part to it: God accompanies each human on the journey of living. Belief in God is all about that companionship. There is no magic promised, no disappearance of human suffering or mitigation of human pain in reutrn for belief. Instead, this is about living each day with a companion consistently searching for goodness, for the best of what it is to be human in even the most difficult of circumdstances. Goodness to one another manifests the God who revels in the best of the human spirit and accepts the broken, the failings, the poor chocies, and awaits another chance. Human beings are made co-conspirators with God for goodness and light for one another in the very midst of all the challenges of human life. Companionship: no condemnation, no judgment. But there is more tucked into these readings of the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the seocnd reading for today carries a striking line:
For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them
Light and simplicity nestle here as well. There is the indomitable trust that goodness is there in God and all God’s works. Ours is to “live in them”. Notably absent are threats for non-compliance, or condemnation for choices. Instead, there is the beckoning of the brightest stars in the darkness of a midnight sky. “Living in them” leaves every human being, every generation, the freedom to live in our time and to explore and to choose, over and over, goodness. Laetare Sunday addresses that significance of choice as well in the first reading. It is from the book of Chronicles whose prose confides the history of the Jewish people and completes the Hebrew Bible.
Like a bridge, the passage links the themes of human failure and the forgiveness and generosity of God. It describes repeated poor choices of humans, the frustration of God, and then the opening, the forgiveness and new beginning: light and simplicity. There is an irony in the all too human emotional God of the passage. But there is also the ultimate conclusion, the new beginning, of building a house of God. Laetare Sunday is like that: it si an invitation to become a builder of a new world and a better life. It is a call that goes out to every human being in each generation, over all time. It is from God who is greater than, transcends huan limitations, and gently radiates Light in every time, every generation, every system, every life. And so we live in our time, within the human systems, companioned by God.