Hope and Assurance in Lent

This coming Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Do you know it has other names? For our Roman Catholic friends and neighbors, the Fourth Sunday in Lent is known as Laetare Sunday, from the Latin word meaning “rejoice.” For some of our Anglican friends this day is known as Refreshment Sunday. For our British friends, it is Mothering Sunday, the equivalent of Mother’s Day in North America.

As we are deep in Lent, we have been praying, fasting, self-examining, and exercising penitence and sacrifice, we may need to rejoice and be raised up a little bit. The readings assigned to this Sunday do give us reasons to rejoice with hope.

In the first reading from Numbers, we find the ancient Israelites on their journey out of Egypt becoming anxious and “impatient on the way.” Their journey or transition has been long and arduous. They challenge Moses for bring them out of Egypt “to die in the wilderness.” They complain of everything, even the food: “We detest this miserable food.”

They have forgotten that they are on their way home to the Promised Land. They have lost sight of the purpose and meaning of their journey. The desert and its hardships have robbed them not only of patience, but of perspective and hope as well. Only when the Lord punishes them with a multitude of poisonous serpents do the people come to their senses and repent. Only when those bitten by the serpents look upon the serpent of bronze raised by Moses do they once again come to live. God does not eliminate the serpents for them, instead, he gives them hope and assurance that they can live if they look upon the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses. The journey of the Israelites is not over, but it has gained new significance and purpose.

The journey of the Israelites in the desert foreshadows our faith journey. In our earthly pilgrim, we would easily become anxious and impatient like the Israelites. The reading from the Gospel of John following Jesus’ mention of the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness gives us hope and assurance for us to renew the significance and purpose for our journey.

John 3:16 is arguably the most well-known verse. It appears in a lot of places, not in a quote of the text but just that citation of gospel, chapter and verse. Martin Luther loved it because it is “the gospel in miniature,” the very heart of our Christian faith. Most people like it because it gives them hope: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  “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.” Jesus came not to condemn people, but to save everyone who believes in him.

In this season of penitence and sacrifice, we can rejoice because we have these words of hope and assurance from Jesus, Amen.

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