So we weren’t kidding that Advent gets its pink from Lent. You may remember these words from our Advent newsletter:
In ancient times, the dyes used to make purple cloth were very expensive, something only a king or queen could afford. For the early Church, the 40-day season of Lent was the preparation for the Risen King, and so purple paraments and vestments and banners were used to announce the message, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” and help the Church make the journey to the cross and to Easter beyond. Right in the middle of the Lenten wilderness and the 40 days of fasting, the early Church took heart in the coming of Easter and took a moment to rejoice in the promise of salvation. So instead of dark and heavy purple, for one Sunday they lightened things up a bit and used rose or pink colors everywhere as an expression of joy. This tradition continues still in many Christian communities.
It is with no little irony that the fourth (and middle) Sunday in Lent is called Lætáre Sunday, after the Latin word meaning “rejoice.” How exactly does a “Rejoice Sunday” make sense in the middle of this season we call Lent?
For a moment, let’s think about Lent in terms of the shared pilgrimage it is. We journey together from the time we gather around the words of the prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart … for the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We journey together from that moment when in our full humanity we acknowledge that we aren’t gods and can’t do everything alone, that we depend upon a power greater than ourselves, and that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We journey together through the wilderness of our sin and enslavement to ourselves, bearing the mark of the cross in ashes upon our heads, our hearts, our minds, and our souls. Our Lenten journey guides us through the deepest valleys and darkest shadows of human living, following the light of Christ out of the wilderness and toward the promised reign of God’s love.
Along the way, we will discover much about ourselves, about God’s faithfulness, and about an enduring hope that empowers us to travel any road, to turn stumbling stones into stepping stones, and to rise above ourselves and the obstacles we place before our path of renewal and rediscovery. But then, just when we think we’re over the hump and finally on our way out, a cross appears on the horizon! And we know this cross. We know how the Romans used it to crucify Jesus. We know this cross to speak of the horror of human violence, state terror, and imperial oppression. And we know this cross blocks our one way out of the wilderness. How can we move past it, much less take it up and follow our Lord? Rejoice?!?
Yes, rejoice — because the shadow of the cross may be dark, but the Light is in the world and the darkness did not, cannot, and will not overcome it. Beyond the shadow of the cross lies the promise of our imprisonment to sin ended and our tombs of death and despair rent open, for the God of Easter does not stop at the cross. Nor shall we.
On March 11, Lætáre Sunday, come and take up the ancient cry of “Rejoice!” because we know that God wins and that nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even death on a cross. Come and rejoice as we anticipate the victory of Love in Easter and find the courage and strength to continue our journey with God out of the wilderness and into the dawn of New Creation!