“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”Hebrews 12:2b NIV
The fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Laetare Sunday. This year, it fell right after St. Patrick’s Day, another feast day in the traditional liturgical church calendar. Laetare Sunday is a Sunday of joy in the middle of the season’s lament.
Isn’t that just like life? In our church community these last few weeks, we’ve endured together several tragic losses. And in these last few weeks, we celebrated the births of several new babies.
Our own family lost a beloved aunt suddenly, and her funeral was filled with both tears and laughter, joy in the middle of the season’s lament.
This is something that I have treasured about my husband’s family for as long as I have been a member of it—they know how to laugh together, heartily, loudly, and often. And they also know how to grieve together, openly, intimately, and vulnerably. The grief over their lost loved one was raw, and their sorrow, full.
But even in the midst of their sorrow, my husband’s family—my family—rejoiced together.
How can this be? How is it possible to celebrate Laetare Sunday, to be joyful in the midst of lament?
It is because of the Lord’s victory over death. It is because he isn’t the lastborn of all creation but the firstborn of a new creation. It is because of the promise of everlasting life, of new life, of rebirth, of God making all things new.
Suffering is promised to us, interwoven into creation. From the beginning of time, stars have been born and died. Dust has risen, been shaped into living creatures, and then returned from where it came. Even though suffering is a truth of all life, it isn’t the only truth. Through Jesus’ victory over death, Christ followers can have faith that there is more to the story, that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.
Because while suffering leads to death, our God is a God of rebirth. Of resurrection. Of restoration. Of hope. And in that we can rejoice! Look at how the universe continues its cycle of rebirth. Look at the seasons, turning and returning, echoing the same story. Even in the shadow of the valley of death, the psalmist writes, we should fear no evil, because the Lord is with us, his comfort guiding us. His promise is that no matter what darkness descends, dawn will ascend. Though the sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. The story isn’t over. It’s just the end of a chapter. In Christ, a new chapter awaits.
There is no suffering we cannot endure because of the joy set before us.
Points of Reflection
- How does Jesus’ suffering and promise of hope help you cope with difficult times?
- Do you find it hard to rejoice in the midst of suffering?
For the Kids
- What do you think the “joy set before him” means in today’s verse?
- What are some examples of things that seem hard but end up being satisfying or joyful, even though there was suffering to get there?
We’re past Laetare Sunday, now, but if, like me, this was the first you’ve ever heard of Laetere Sunday, pick a day this coming week to pause from this season of lament and find joy. The season is turning warmer where we are; find time to walk outdoors and marvel at the turning over of seasons, how all of creation testifies each spring to the resurrection power of our God.
Henri J.M. Nouwen was a beloved Catholic priest and writer. I’ve only read a couple of the 40 books he published during his lifetime, and they’ve both had a lasting impact on me. His work, Beyond the Mirror: Reflections on Life and Death, “describes the events leading up to his near fatal accident and recalls the transformative experience at the portal of death. Beyond the Mirror helps us contact the powerful reality of unconditional love that Nouwen experienced as he touched eternity. His insight inspires us to live our lives freely with confidence and trust that we belong to God.”