Friday, 21 March 2014

Lent 3 - 6: Purification, illumination, perfection

You'd be forgiven for wondering exactly what the continuity is behind the next three Sundays' Lenten Gospel readings. This week, Lent 3, we will hear about the Samaritan woman at the well; in Lent 4, were it not displaced by Mothering Sunday, we'd have the healing of the blind man (I will cover it in next week's email to make up for its unfortunate omission); then, in Lent 5, we have the raising of Lazarus. So why, after we've heard the Lenten stories of the Temptations in the wilderness and the Transfiguration, this semingly random set of episodes from Jesus' life?

The answer is that they are not random at all. They have not been chosen on the whim of the Church's liturgists, but in fact comprise a very ancient sequence for the preparation of candidates for baptism, which traditionally happened at the first Mass of Easter, the Easter Vigil. If we think about what these readings relate to, we will see why they make such good reading for catechumens (the proper name for baptismal candidates) - and, indeed, for the rest of us.

This Sunday's reading about the woman at the well is all about water, and Jesus promising the water of life not only to Jews, but also to gentiles like the Samaritan. Anyone, not just a Jew, can be purified of their sins by being baptised a Christian.

Next Sunday, we would hear about Jesus giving sight to the blind man. The Holy Spirit has been associated since very early times with the opening of the eyes of our hearts (e.g. Ephesians 1.18), so that we can see the glory of the Kingdom of God among us, around us and beyond us. Of course, the seal of the Holy Spirit is given in Confirmation.

Finally, we will hear about the raising of the dead, which Jesus offers to all who follow Him. Once we have been purified by water in Baptism and the eyes of our hears opened by the Holy Spirit Confirmation, we can receive the promise of the Resurrection in the Eucharist, the sacrament of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross through which He gives us all eternal life.

So, in these three readings, the budding Christian learns the threefold path of salvation: purification, illumination and ultimately perfection, as Christ dwells in us and we in Him, for ever. But this is not just for catechumens. We all renew our purification every time we confess our sins, refresh our vision every time we enter deeply into prayer, and taste the promise of perfection at every Eucharist. Lent is the time when we can renew our commitment to these everyday disciplines of Christian life.

No comments:

Post a Comment