Third Sunday of Lent
01 Mar 2021
Anne McGowan, MTS, Phd

Reading 1: Exodus 20:1-17
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Gospel: John 2:13-25

The Gospel readings for the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent in Year B all speak of signs of Jesus’ death and resurrection that his first followers recognized in retrospect and preserved in written form for their spiritual posterity. They include the “cleansing” of the temple as a sign pointing to Jesus’ resurrection after the destruction of his body (3rd Sunday), the necessity of the Son of Man being “lifted up” so that those who believe in him might have eternal life (4th Sunday), and the grain of wheat that bears much fruit if it dies (5th Sunday).  This Sunday’s juxtaposition of God’s house drained of people and the insinuation of a broken body, however, is particularly poignant during these times of coronavirus and more conscious attention to the vulnerabilities of bodies of color.  Closures and cancellations to protect public health drove people out of the local gathering places for the Church as the people of God.  Even as many churches have since opened their doors again with precautions in place, many people still remain away out of concern for their health and the health of their close contacts, legitimate fear, and/or the habit of absence that has now extended for nearly a year.  Some may never return.  From the disruption of daily routines to the loss of loved ones to COVID-19, from police brutality that bears bodies away to economic crises that exacerbate anxiety about where the next coins will come from, countless lives have been upended like the money changers’ tables, making any return to “business as usual” impossible.

The Church is called to be a place where two broken bodies of Christ meet – the ecclesial body of Christ, comprised of God’s collectively stumbling but steadfast people, and the Eucharistic body of Christ that becomes their food as pilgrims en route to everlasting life.  Eucharistia for the ecclesia, holy things for holy people.  The times we are living through offer us opportunities to envision temples not confined by their usual walls and new ways to be wheat for the world, looking beyond our limitations and fears to rely on God who is wiser and stronger than the biggest hopes we could ever manage to have.  The hope for resurrection we hold during the Lenten season is hope not for Jesus’ resurrection (which has already happened) but for our own, because of the new life God offers us through Jesus in the Holy Spirit.  When Catholics bring the bodies of their dead to churches for a Christian funeral, one option for the opening collect of the funeral liturgy prays to God: “as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead, is deepened, may our hope of resurrection for your departed servant N. also find new strength.”   Through our repentance and hope during this Lenten season, we can, with God’s help, rise above the destruction we have done to ourselves and one another and the calamities that have come to us.  May our hope for our own resurrection beyond what we can hope for, and even beyond death be strengthened also as we support one another in our faith in what is still possible because God loves us enough.

The lectionary readings for the middle Sundays of Lent return us to our roots. They lead us to reflect on what we are when we choose to rely on ourselves, who we are because of what God has already done for us, and who God invites us to become as we repent of our self-serving ways and live from our belief that the Gospel offers our surest hope for the resurrection of what is best in us and the destruction of what is worst in us. In Year B we are challenged by the covenant in the Exodus reading.  We are encouraged to reframe the laws given through God’s Word not as limits on our freedom, but as lanes within which we operate best so that everyone and everything that God also loved into life and existence can fully flourish with us. God remains mercifully faithful to the covenant promise to be God-for-us even when we lapse into legalism that neglects love, or leave God’s laws aside entirely to set our own rules. We are called to embrace again the paradox of a crucified Savior and the power and wisdom of a God whose love is undeterred even by death.  We bear the mark of that cross inscribed on our bodies by a representative of the Church during the process that led us to baptism administered either at the beginning of the baptismal rite (for infants and young children) or during the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens.  Whether “covered” subsequently by water, oil, or ashes, that usually invisible sign of our Christian identity goes everywhere with us, serving sometimes as a stumbling block or foolishness in our relationships with others, but sometimes as a witness of joyous possibilities for reconciliation, healing, and hope.

Anne McGowan, PhD
Assistant Professor of Liturgy