The poets and preachers of our Anglican tradition help us in the spiritual journey of Lent by opening us out to the nature of penitential adoration. As Lancelot Andrewes notes in his Good Friday sermon in 1605, we are always to be “looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith” but most especially upon Christ crucified. Paul, he says, “knew many, very many things” yet he decided “to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “The perfection of our knowledge is Christ; the perfection of our knowledge in or touching Christ, is the knowledge of His Cross and Passion.” Somehow it is our comfort, the strengthening of our faith.
The Fourth Sunday marks the midpoint of the Lenten journey. Variously known as Mothering Sunday, because of the Epistle reading from Galatians about “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all,” and, Refreshment Sunday, because of the Gospel story from John about the feeding of the multitude in the wilderness, and Laetare Sunday, because of the Introit at Mass from Isaiah 66. 10, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her,” it recalls us to the end of the Lenten journey; in other words to its purpose and meaning. It opens us out to “the comfort[s] of thy grace by which we may mercifully be relieved” as the Collect for The Fourth Sunday in Lent puts it, even given the knowledge “that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished.” The juxtaposition of punishment and comfort is instructive about the dialectic of redemption.
Tonight, too, is The Feast of St. Patrick, which somehow can be allowed to pass without celebration, even in Lent! Yet, the Saints are part of our spiritual journey; “the cloud of witnesses” that compass us about in our “running the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”
George Herbert in his poem on Lent speaks of it as a “deare feast.” It is on The Fourth Sunday in Lent and the week which it graces that perhaps we get a glimpse of what that means. As he begins the very last poem of his collection of poems known as the Temple, a poem called Love (III), “Love bade me welcome” and, indeed, that captures the meaning of Lent as the pilgrimage of Love. Laetare Sunday reminds us that the Love of God provides for us. The end of the journey is equally what sustains and provides for us in the way of the journeying. The eschatological, meaning the last things, and the eucharistical, pertaining to communion, are inescapably connected. They are about our being gathered to God. As Andrewes says in a Nativity Sermon “even thus to be recollected at this feast by the Holy Communion into that blessed union, is the highest perfection we can in this life aspire unto. We then are at the highest pitch, at the very best we shall ever attain to on earth, what time we newly come from it; gathered to Christ, and by Christ to God.”