Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
by Dr. Robert Crouse
All Saints, Rome
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, now that all our
fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And were all
baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. And did all eat that same
spiritual meat, and did all drink that same spiritual drink; for they drank of
that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. Now all these
things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our
admonition, upon whim the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians, 10)
The logic of the Lenten season, and its significance for our spiritual life, is
to be discerned in the scripture lessons appointed for the Sundays of the
season. In that ancient selection of Epistle and Gospel lessons – dating back at
least to the fifth century – which passed through the Reformation and still
survives in the Book of Common Prayer, the logic is quite simple and direct.
The lessons of Lent are all about the conflict between the Son and God and the
powers of darkness, and about our participation in that conflict.
Thus, on the First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel lesson is about Jesus’
confrontation with the devil in the wilderness; on the Second Sunday, he casts
out the devil from the Canaanite woman’s daughter; and on the Third Sunday, “by
the finger of God”, by the Word of God, he exorcizes the devil from a dumb man.
These are the Gospel lessons for the first three Sundays; and the corresponding
Epistle lessons are all about diabolical temptation in our own lives.
But the Gospel for the Third Sunday concludes with a solemn warning, that the
casting out of devils is never enough: the swept and garnished house offers an
invitation to still more vicious devils: “they enter in and dwell there, and
the last state of that man is worst than the first”.
Therefore, the lessons for the Fourth Sunday are all about filling the spiritual
house – the house of the soul – with spiritual nutriment, with the grace of
God: the bread of life, miraculously multiplied in the wilderness; fortifying
the soul with the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, to sustain our hope and
confidence as we approach the final conflict. Therefore, the Fourth Sunday,
because of those lessons about spiritual nutriment has had the popular names of
“Refreshment Sunday,” because of the Gospel lesson, and “Mothering Sunday”,
because of the Epistle lesson about Jerusalem our mother. And I think we still
tend to remember “Mothering Sunday”, even if we don’t follow the ancient
lectionary on which the tradition is bases.
With the new “Common Lectionary”, with its three-year cycle of lessons, the
logic of the season is obviously much more complex, and requires considerably
more interpretation. But with today’s lessons, at least, it seems to me that
the unifying theme is quite clear: these lessons are all about spiritual
nutriment, about miraculous food and drink to sustain us in our wilderness
journey. It is as though we were having “Refreshment Sunday” or “Mothering
Sunday” a week early; spiritual nutriment: water in the desert – that one theme
ties together the Old Testament lesson from Exodus, the Epistle lesson from
Romans, and the Gospel lesson from St. John. But perhaps the connection calls
for some explanation.
The “spring of water, gushing up to eternal life”, of which Jesus speaks to the
Samaritan woman, is simply the eternal word of God, the grace of God in Christ
himself, “Fons gratiae”, who has come to give life, not only to Jerusalem, but
also to Samaria, and, indeed, to all the world. He is himself the spring of
water in the desert. The incident from Exodus, in our Old Testament lesson –
the miraculous water from the rock – is interpreted as a sign, an example, of
the grace of God in Christ. St. Paul, in First Corinthians, makes the
connection quite explicitly: “they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed
them: and that Rock was Christ.” You see, the whole Exodus event – the
Passover from Egypt to the Promised Land, is seen as a sign, a foreshadowing, of
the Passover of Christ, in which our salvation is won.
And if we ask how we drink of that Rock, how we share in the grace
of God, that “spring of water gushing up to eternal life”, today’s lesson from
the Epistle to the Romans gives us at least the beginning of the answer: “Since
we are justified by faith,” says St. Paul, “we have peace with God through our
Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which
we stand.” It is by faith – by faith alone, God’s gift of faith – that we have
obtained access; it is by faith that we eat and drink God’s grace to sustain us
in our wilderness journeying, to nourish our endurance in our sufferings, and to
fortify our hope to glory.
“God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for
us.” That proof is indeed liberation and spiritual sustenance; that proof of
God’s sustaining love is indeed water from the Rock – a spring of water gushing
up to eternal life; food and drink for our Lenten pilgrimage, and our whole
life’s pilgrimage. “All did eat that same spiritual meat, and all did drink
that same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed
them, and that Rock was Christ.”
Come, then: eat and drink the free, unmerited grace of God in Christ. Feed on
him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.