This Sunday is traditionally called “Laetare” Sunday for the first words of the opening of the Eucharistic Liturgy: “Laetare, Jerusalem,” – “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.” We rejoice on this day that is half way between remembering our death on Ash Wednesday and our life through Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
“We rejoice knowing in faith that our brother Jesus lived, died, and still lives among us,” Maryknoll Father Jack Sullivan, a longtime missioner in Hong Kong, says. “Despite our infidelities, Jesus continues to send us messages, warnings, and hope, calling us to love Jerusalem, the City of God, which is our whole earth itself, with all its people and creatures, even when we understand so little, fall short repeatedly, and suffer without cause.”
Today’s Gospel reading tells about Nicodemus, a Pharisee who seems to want to follow Jesus. One night, he approaches Jesus to acknowledge Him as someone who has come from God but, in the dialogue that follows, Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus at every point.
It doesn’t matter, though, because John’s gospel includes a theological reflection on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, including an observation about human sinfulness. Jesus is the light that has come into the world, but people prefer the darkness. Jesus has come into the world to reveal and die for our sins so that they may be forgiven. This is the Good News; it is our reason for rejoicing during the season of Lent and throughout our lives.
In his six principles of nonviolence, Dr. King named the fourth principle to be: Nonviolence holds that suffering, like Christ dying on the cross, can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
“This doesn’t mean that suffering itself is good,” wrote Mika Edmonston in The Power of Unearned Suffering: The Roots and Implications of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theodicy. “But in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ, believers have held that God’s omnipresent goodness will have the final say over every form of suffering, no matter how severe.” … “For King, the cross of Christ represented the definitive proof of God’s purpose to bring redemptive good out of suffering, and the guiding example of how to actively engage suffering toward a redemptive goal.”
James Cone, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, offers the lynching tree as a viable symbol for reflection on the cross of Christ. According to Cone, understandings of the cross and lynching tree can explain how events of trauma and injustice can still inspire hope for the African American community and all marginalized communities.