Laetare Sunday- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
Silence the noise in our soul. Empty us of cravings for things of this world that do not truly satisfy. Fill us with the bread of your presence and the living water of your mercy. – Amen
This past week one of my clergy colleagues shared a post on social media that made me laugh.
“Saw this at my local pharmacy” The attached photo showed a “Winnie the Pooh Easter Advent Calendar” Her post continued: “The clerk didn’t get the irony of my standing there in my clergy collar saying that I’ve never heard of Easter Advent (and a chocolate calendar for it at that)”
Others commented on the post making jokes at the calendar’s liturgical absurdity.
I had to add my two cents.
“I guess Lent calendars wouldn’t carry the same charm. You’d open a door and inside there’d be a little note that says “40 days until you get to enjoy a piece of chocolate.”
Of course this is liturgical absurdity, but then I got curious.
Maybe there is a lesson to be learned and taught here?
Lent and Advent are both seasons of preparation.
In Advent we prepare for Christ to “live with us.” We prepare and repent because in order to welcome the one who saves us from our sins we must acknowledge our sins. It prepares us for incarnation.
Lent approaches preparation from a different perspective. We prepare and meditate on “Christ dying for us.” Lent prepares us for the way of the Cross and an eventual Resurrection. To do this preparation we must acknowledge our mortality and brokenness.
Beyond preparation, there are similarities.
For example, until the 9th century Advent was also 40 days and is often referred to as “little Lent.”
In addition to the color purple representing preparation, they also share another liturgical color that only shows up one Sunday during each season – rose.
Today is that special rose Sunday. Today is known as Laetare Sunday. The name comes from the traditional introit to mass which begins “Laetare Jerusalem!” Rejoice Jerusalem. With 21 days through the penitential season, halfway through, we need a little reminder of what is to come.
As I mentioned and if you recall back to December, Laetare’s Advent counterpart is Gaudate Sunday. We lit the pink candle on our Advent wreath in joyful anticipation of the Lord’s coming at Christmas.
Traditionally, in high Anglo-Catholic parishes the clergy and altar frontals are adorned with rose colored vestments. It is custom on this halfway point through Lent, that many Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic churches might once again place flowers on the altar. Laetare Sunday, also known as Mothering Sunday, the faithful might return in celebration to their mother church (the church in which they were baptized). Although usually forbidden during Lent, bishops would also permit marriages to occur today.
If you’re using the so-called “Easter Advent Calendar”, and you’ve given up sweets for 40 days, you might even be lucky enough to find a piece of chocolate inside as Lenten fasts. (As we all know Easter Advent is not a real thing.)
But I would like to offer another interpretation to this special Sunday.
Today in our scripture lessons we discover that GOD IS WAITING FOR US! In the midst of focusing on our brokenness and sin, we are reminded that because God waits for us we can rejoice! Maybe God could use that Winnie the Pooh calendar, counting days until we recognize our reliance on God and return.
We see this in the parable from Luke’s Gospel. We commonly refer to this story as the “Prodigal Son.” Like the prodigal child in the parable God waits for the sinner to repent and return.
However, I will also suggest we do not refer to this parable by its traditional title. Instead, let’s call it “The Parable of the Loving Father.” We limit ourselves and miss something true about God’s loving nature, if we focus solely on the renegade “bad” child.. Furthermore, God is so much bigger than our one interpretation of a story because as hearers of the story we all bring our own experiences into the hearing of the parable.
Parables are meant to bring us and our own experiences into a new understanding of revelation about the Divine. “Parable” literally means “cast alongside” They pair a familiar idea (life experiences) with concepts that are beyond our comprehension (heavenly experiences) Jesus casts the divine beside our ordinary encounters to illustrate God’s nature.
In Jesus’ original audience we are told notorious sinners, tax collectors, outcasts heard this parable story. We are told that supposed righteous, upright religious officials also heard the parable – Pharisees, scribes, pros at keeping and interpreting the religious law.
Jesus casts this story alongside their experiences when he encounters the religious folk complaining about his connection with the “notoriously sinful” – as if sinner was a designation that did not include them.
This story is also cast for us to hear.
It speaks to us and we are able to place ourselves into the role of each character.
Who might you be in the story?
Have you ever dishonored a parent like the son who ran away from home?
Have you ever dishonored your parents by rejecting a sibling?
Have you ever thought that you deserved more than you had been given?
Have you ever disagreed with a family member to the point where you did not want to be around them at holidays or during a celebration?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions you’ve already proved the point. There is no prodigal son in this story. There is no good child or bad child in this story.
For that matter there are no good people or bad people.
Sinner is a designation that fits the two brothers and fits all of us as well.
Scripture reminds us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” and “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”
No person escapes this designation because without God we are incapable of becoming what God intends us to fully be. Humanity cannot obtain what only God alone can give.
Therefore we too are cast as one of the children, or from time to time as both of the children in the parable.
But there is also the patient and hopeful, loving Father. Perhaps by modern standards we might say that he practices too permissie of a parenting style, but that’s beside the point. We could get into the whole argument of free will and whether you can be loving and deny free-will, but we won’t. His first son abuses his father’s loving nature.
In Jesus’s culture, one that highly valued honor and shame, the Father in the story is severely dishonored by his sons. The first son requests his inheritance early. “Give me what I am due to me when you are dead.” essentially, “I no longer need you or want you. You’re dead to me.” He leaves his father’s home and sets out to do what he thinks is best for him.
The father is grief stricken, but consents and waits in hope for the son’s return. The son does eventually return home, guilty and broken in spirit. He has hit absolute rock bottom. However, the Father doesn’t even hear his confession and guilt before he is running to meet him. When the son does confess what he’s done the father doesn’t chide, shame or reprimand. He rejoices and throws a massive celebration not beause of the confession, but because of the return.
What do we make of the second son?
He also dishonors his father and in doing so estranges himself from the celebration. The eldest son is angry, because the fatted calf, typically reserved for special celebrations such as weddings, is slaughtered for the brother who he considers to be the “bad child.” He too is concerned for what is “due to him.” Unlike his brother he assumed he could earn this rite.
.The father also notices that this son is missing from the celebration.
He hopes for his return to the family as well. “You are also my son, all that is mine is yours. We must rejoice now because our family is once again whole.”
Wholeness is the Father’s desire. This is where those Lenten and Advent Themes of prepartion and on this Laetare Sunday come crashing together.
Wholeness in the family of God is what God has ALWAYS hoped for.
During our Lenten journey of repentance, self discipline and reflection, we might imagine that God is experiencing an Advent of sorts. Desiring nothing more than to live with us.. God is counting down the days, hoping and dreaming for wholeness in God’s family
Knowing this, If we love God we prepare ourselves recognizing our mortality and turning from the sins that separate us from this desired family. While the Father waits and watches and dreams, we the beloved hoped for children turn back.
Some children will turn back home from the far off places they’ve wandered. They’ve encountered the darkness of rock bottom desolation. They’ve seen the suffering that comes with attachments that never bring wholeness and the pain that comes with shunned love.
Other children will return from the isolation of self righteousness that estranges the beloved. They fear the lowering of their status with the elevation and celebration of another, who in their eyes is unequal and undeserving.
Unknown to the scribes and the Pharisees, unknown to the tax collectors, who first heard the story of the loving father, there is another son. He is the storyteller casting his Word for us to recognize ourselves in the story.
The scribes and pharisees saw him eat with the “sinners” and thought him far from home. The elevated kings and rulers in their palace homes saw him as a far off nothing.
The life of Christ is itself a sort of parable. He is cast aside us so that we might see ourselves in the larger story that God has planned for us. It’s not what we expect.
He is the Son who’s brokenness will raise us to glory.
He is the son whose elevation brings the powers of this world to their knees.
He is the one who draws all people to the family of God.
God waits and yearns for us mortals to turn and follow the Way of this immortal Son.
Our turning will lead us home into the hopeful and rejoicing arms of the loving Father.