Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

Sunday Church at Home

during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic

God Gives us Salvation.

The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:

Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All reply: Amen

Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All reply: Blessed be God for ever

Leader: The first word of today’s Entrance Antiphon is “Rejoice” – in Latin, Laetare; and so this Sunday has traditionally been known as “Laetare Sunday”. We have come to the midpoint of Lent. The season is half over, and the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus is nearer to us. 

LITURGY OF THE WORD

First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16.19-23

Introduction to the reading: The second book of Chronicles is part of a series which traces Jewish history from its beginning down to the end of the exile in Babylon, five centuries before Christ. Today’s reading is the conclusion of the book. It summarizes the reasons for the exile and tells how it ended after 70 years. Second Chronicles was placed last in the Jewish bible. When we hear the final words of this reading, we hear how the Jewish Scriptures conclude on a positive note.

A reading from the second Book of Chronicles

In those days:
All the leading priests and the people were exceedingly unfaithful,
following all the abominations of the nations;
and they polluted the house of the Lord
which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.

The Lord, the God of their ancestors,
sent persistently to them by his messengers,
because he had compassion on his people
and on his dwelling place;
but they kept mocking the messengers of God,
despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets,
till the wrath of the Lord rose against his people,
till there was no remedy.

And the Chaldeans burned the house of God,
and broke down the wall of Jerusalem,
and burned all its palaces with fire,
and destroyed all its precious vessels.
The king of Chaldeans took into exile in Babylon
those who had escaped from the sword,
and they became servants to him and to his sons
until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia,
to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah,
until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths.
All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath,
to fulfil seventy years.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia,
that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah
might be accomplished,
the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia
so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom
and also put it in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia,
‘The Lord, the God of heaven,
has given me all the kingdoms of the earth,
and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem,
which is in Judah.
Whoever is among you of all his people,
may the Lord his God be with him.
Let him go up.’”

The word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 137:1-2.4-5.6 (R. 6ab)

Let us pray the Responsorial Psalm.

R/. O let my tongue cleave to my palate
        if I remember you not.

By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept,
remembering Sion;
on the poplars that grew there
we hung up our harps.

For it was there that they asked us,
our captors, for songs,
our oppressors, for joy.
“Sing to us,” they said,
“one of Sion’s songs.”

O how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on foreign soil?
If I forget you, Jerusalem
let my right hand wither!

O let my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
if I prize not Jerusalem
as the first of my joys!

R/. O let my tongue cleave to my palate
        if I remember you not.

Second reading: Ephesians 2:4-10

Introduction to the reading: Ephesus is located on the western coast of what is today Turkey. The author of this letter to the Christians in Ephesus writes about the saving power of God that is available to both Jews and non-Jews. Today’s passage reminds us that salvation is God’s gift alone. “Gift” is the root meaning of the word “grace.”

A reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians.

Brothers and sisters:

God, who is rich in mercy,
out of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead through our trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ
(by grace you have been saved),
and raised us up with him,
and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
that in the coming ages
he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace
in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith;
and this is not your own doing,
it is the gift of God—
not because of works,
lest any one should boast.
For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them.

The word of the Lord.

Glory and praise to you, O Christ
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son; that whoever believes in him should have eternal life.

Glory and praise to you, O Christ

Gospel: John 3:14-21

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

At that time:
Jesus said to Nicodemus,
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
so must the Son of man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish
but have eternal life.
For God sent the Son into the world,
not to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
He who believes in him is not condemned;
he who does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name
of the only-begotten Son of God.
And this is the judgment,
that the light has come into the world,
and people loved darkness rather than light
because their deeds were evil.
For everyone who does evil hates the light,
and does not come to the light,
lest his deeds should be exposed.
But he who does what is true comes to the light,
that it may be clearly seen

The Gospel of the Lord.

Reflection on the Readings 

The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.

Homily

Mother Teresa was interviewed on TV a few years before she passed away.  She said, “It is very, very important, that the families teach their children to pray and pray with them.” Then she added, “And we have enough reason to trust God, because when we look at the cross, we understand how much Jesus loved us. It is wonderful to be able to come to Jesus! That’s why God made Him – to be our bread of life, to give us life! And with His life comes new life! New energy! New peace! New joy! New everything! And I think that’s what brings glory to God, also, and it brings peace.” Then she said, “I’ve seen families suffer so much, and when they’ve been brought to Jesus, it changes their whole lives.”

We all have seen lives changed by the power of Jesus. Sometimes, over time, we forget. Today the Good News comes loud and clear: 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” 

That certainly sums up the whole gospel message.

The next verse is, 

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world….” 

Some people are determined by their words and attitudes to make sure people hear the following verse, 

“Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” 

That’s a pretty good package, isn’t it? If you believe in Jesus you are saved; if you don’t… well too bad for you! Usually people using this quote are pretty sure which side of the saved/damned divide they are going wind up.

Imagine, taking a couple verses out of the Scriptures and passing judgment on most of the world who do not accept or know of Jesus. Certainly, the gospel is quite clear that through Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection God has saved the world. But because of historical, geographical, or cultural settings people who do not believe are not condemned. Nor, I believe, are people who have turned away because they experienced a harsh and negative message from their families or church.

The Gospel has a repeated message of God’s love and desire to save all people, even if they do not express faith in Christ. Think of the judgment scene in Matthew (25:31-46), with all the nations are gathered before the throne of judgment. The sheep are separated from the goats. The sheep represent all the blessed and the goats represent all those who are damned. 

The goats are the people who said, ‘I believe in Jesus, but did not feed the hungry, did not clothed the naked, did not gave drink to the thirsty, etc. They did not do acts of love. 

The blessed sheep are the ones who are saved. They are the people who did feed the hungry, they did clothe the naked, they did give drink to the thirsty – they did do acts of love.  People are accepted into God’s kingdom if they cared for one another and served God, whether they expressed faith, or not.

We have received a call to know God through the revelation of Jesus. We believe in him and proclaim him by our lives. That is the gift of our vocation as baptized Christians – an unmerited and loving gift from our God. We have not earned the gift, so let’s be careful whom we judge as saved, or condemned. As Paul reminds us today: 

“God is rich in mercy… even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”

Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, who came to him at night. He probably did not come at that hour because the night is cool, quiet and a good time for conversations of consequence. Nicodemus was afraid of being seen by others. Later, Nicodemus would defend Jesus before the Sanhedrin. With Joseph of Arimathea, he gives burial to Jesus. But we never hear of Nicodemus becoming a Christian. He may represent others of his faith who were timid to publicly admit faith in Jesus. It was dangerous to do so.

Today we can ask ourselves: is there is a bit, or a lot of Nicodemus in us? Are we among those who have been given the gift of faith, who like Nicodemus speak well of Jesus, even go to church, but have not lived lives of obvious commitment to him? Are we also timid about voicing faith in Christ: defending the rights of people on the fringe of society; giving our time and energy to feed the hungry; doing acts of love and therefore doing what Jesus spells out in that judgment scene in Matthew 25?

In the Gospel, to “believe” in Jesus means to “act in truth,” or “do the truth.” It is not just about applauding Jesus from the side lines. It’s doing what we claim to believe. We believe in Christ because we have received the gift of grace from our out-reaching God. Lent calls us to reflect on this gift and then act out of the new life it gives us.

Here is a difficult verse: 

“… But whoever does not believe has already been condemned because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” 

The gospel uses the word “believe” as an action verb. Believing in Jesus is not just a thought in the mind – it is doing good works in response to our belief in Jesus. Believing in Jesus cannot be reduced to affirming certain doctrines – that he is the Son of God, died for our sins, was raised from the dead, etc. That is all part of believing, but the gospel makes it clear there is much more. It is not belief vs unbelief. It is belief vs disobedience. 

So, if we profess faith we must act on it. If we do not act on our faith, we disobey and condemn ourselves to be excluded from the enveloping love of God. Hell is the choice of cutting myself off from love.

In the Gospel, there is no middle ground. The coming of the Son of God into our world requires a choice: do we believe in the Son of God and, if we do, how do our lives reflect that belief? The gospel says that the coming of God’s Son into the world has brought us light. If we see by that light we are guided by it and live the truth the light shows us.

The message of Lent is not about condemnation, but what we hear repeated in today’s Scriptures. 

“God who is rich in mercy because of the great love God had for us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, brought us to life with Christ.” (Eph 2:4-5)

“By grace you have been saved and this is not from you, it is the gift of God, it is not from works, so no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8)

 

From today’s Gospel reading:

 

For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.

 

Reflection:

 

To “believe” in Jesus is to “act in truth,” or “do the truth.” It is not just about applauding Jesus from the side lines. It’s doing what we claim to believe. We believe in Christ because we have received the gift of grace from our out-reaching God. Lent calls us to reflect on this gift and then act out of the new life it gives us.

 

So, we ask ourselves:

  • Have I been more of a side line Christian than a full time participant?
  • What change can I make this Lent to be more committed to doing faith?

Prayer of the Faithful 

Leader: Having been reminded of how much God our Father loves us, we confidently turn to him in prayer.

Reader:

We pray for Pope Francis on the 8th anniversary of his election as pope: (pause) that God will sustain him in his ministry, inspire his teaching, and help him to lead the Church to greater faith and love.

LORD HEAR US  

We pray for the grace of transformation: (pause) that God will lead us from the comfort of darkness and selfishness and enable us to live in freedom as children of the light.

LORD HEAR US 

We pray for the gift of hope: (pause) that we may not despair as we encounter violence, greed, and abuse but, by the Holy Spirit, courageously give witness to God’s mercy and compassion.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for ourselves:  (pause) that we may be inspired by God’s vision of us as “God’s work of art”. 

LORD HEAR US

We pray for a just and equitable distribution of the Coronavirus vaccines: (pause) that God will give insight to those distributing and administering the vaccines so that those who are most vulnerable may be vaccinated.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for deceased members of our families and friends whose anniversaries occur about this time. 

LORD HEAR US

We pray Clive Fynn who died during the week.  

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

And let perpetual light shine on him.  

May rest in peace.  Amen

Leader: Let us pray together our prayer for Lent:

God Our Father, 

it’s so hard to love the world sometimes
and it seems impossible to love it the way Jesus does.
Help us to be inspired by his love and guided by his example. 

Most of all, we want to accept that we can’t do it alone,
and that trying is an arrogance of self-centeredness. 

We need you, Lord our God, to give us support on this journey. 

Show us how to unlock our hearts so that we can be less selfish.

Let us be less fearful of the pain and darkness 

that will be transformed by you into Easter joy. 

We ask this through Christ our Lord. 

Amen.

Spiritual Communion

We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.

By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us. 

My Jesus, I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment, feed my soul spiritually. I unite myself to you now as I do when I receive you. Amen.

CONCLUDING RITE

Leader: Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us: 

All say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

Leader:

O God, rich in mercy,
you so loved the world
that, when we were dead in our sins,
you sent your only Son for our deliverance.

Lifted up from the earth,
he is light and life;
exalted upon the cross,
he is truth and salvation.

Raise us up with Christ
and make us rich in good works,
that we may walk as children of light
toward the paschal feast of heaven.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Amen.

Blessing

A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:

Leader: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

All: Amen.