Sunday, March 10, 2024

Of Crooked Ink & Innocent Blood

4th Sunday in Lent (B)

(Laetare Sunday)

Readings: 2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-23; Psalm 136 (137): 1-6; Ephesians 2: 4-10; John 3: 14-21

Picture: By John Jennings on Unsplash

My dear friends, what’s the difference between a letter written in ink and one written in blood? Some of us may recall watching Chinese period dramas on TV, in which a righteous official is unjustly sentenced to death, for speaking the truth. To protest his innocence, the official composes a letter written in his own blood. Expressing not just the seriousness of the matter, but also his utter commitment to his cause. His willingness to sacrifice his own life, to shed his own innocent blood, for the sake of the truth… This story may help us ponder a challenging question found in our scriptures today.

In the psalm, the exiled people of Israel is asked to sing a joyful song of Zion. Prompting them to wonder, O how could we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil? Of course, one way is to simply ignore the truth of the Exile, to forget Jerusalem. But the people rightly refuse this way of apathy… If we are truthful, perhaps we will be moved to ask a similar question today, as our liturgy calls us to rejoice: How can we rejoice?… When our own hearts may remain burdened by worry, or broken by grief, or troubled by guilt? How can we rejoice?… While helpless children starve in war-torn lands, and desperate migrants drown in the depths of the sea? How can we rejoice?… Knowing that our comfortable lifestyles contribute to the ever growing quantity and intensity of natural disasters around the world? How can we rejoice?…

One response to this troubling question is expressed in the often heard saying, God writes straight with crooked lines. In the first reading, God uses the crooked lines of human history – the rise and fall of empires, and Israel’s own repeated episodes of infidelity – as an indelible ink with which to write the story of God’s steadfast love. To rejoice in the darkness, we need only recall God’s fidelity to us in the past, and trust that God’s light will eventually shine on us again in the future.

But – again if we are truthful – waiting in the dark often requires more trust than we ourselves can muster. Thankfully, in the gospel, Jesus reminds us that God’s love for us is written not just with the ink of crooked lines, but in the righteous blood of God’s only Son. The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert. As with the bronze serpent, God’s merciful love transforms the Cross of Christ from a cruel instrument of death to a secure gateway to New Life. So that even when we may be engulfed in darkness of any kind, we are not alone. The light of the Crucified and Risen One is already shining in the dark. Tenderly enfolding us in its healing rays. Offering us wisdom to recognise the truth, and courage to live by it. Enabling us to experience consolation, even in the darkness. Perhaps not quite the excitement one feels at a Taylor Swift concert. Nor the thrill one gets from a hard-won achievement. But joy, to be humbly received as a grace, as a pure gift from God.

Sisters and brothers, God’s steadfast love for us is expressed not just with crooked lines, but in the precious blood of Christ. What can we do to better allow this consoling truth to strengthen and sustain us in joy this Lent?

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