We find ourselves midway through Lent already! This Sunday, known as Laetare Sunday, is one of reprieve amidst the somberness of Lent (even if the Great Fast isn’t kept as rigorously as in former times), with the violet vestments giving way to rose, the ancient Roman colour of joy. Many of the texts for the Propers are taken from the Gradual Psalms (or, Songs of Ascent), psalms which are believed to have been sung by Jewish pilgrims as they reached Jerusalem and the Temple during the three great pilgrimage feasts of the Old Testament. While they are psalms of joy, they are intimately bound to Jerusalem; today’s stational church is that of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, a church built to house a relic of the True Cross and filled with soil brought over from Jerusalem!
I found the imagery present in the Latin of today’s collect quite beautiful. The English gives us: “Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that we who justly suffer for our sins may find relief in the help of Your grace”; however, if one were to translate the final part of the oration – tuæ grátiæ consolatióne respirémus – literally, it would be something like “[we] may breathe the consolation of Your grace.” This “breathing grace which consoles” invokes in me images of the Divine Breath, the Holy Spirit, Who is the Paraclete, the Consoler; it is the Paraclete dwelling within us Who vivifies us; just as with Adam, so does God breathe back Life into us as we make our way through this earthly life. This reference to the Holy Spirit seems quite fitting at this particular stational church, as it is through Christ’s Passion and Death upon the Holy and Life Giving Cross that He then Resurrected and Ascended to the Father in order to send us the Consoler.
Some veterotestamental imagery in today’s Gospel pericope caught my attention this year, which I had previously missed. Today’s Gospel gives us an account of the feeding of the 5000. I’ve bolded the parts that jumped out at me:
At that time, Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is that of Tiberias. And there followed Him a great crowd, because they witnessed the signs He worked on those who were sick. Jesus therefore went up the mountain, and sat there with His disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. When, therefore, Jesus had lifted up His eyes and seen that a very great crowd had come to Him, He said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat? But He said this to try him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not enough for them, that each one may receive a little. One of His disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to Him, There is a young boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes; but what are these among so many? Jesus then said, Make the people recline. Now there was much grass in the place. The men therefore reclined, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, distributed them to those reclining; and likewise the fishes, as much as they wished. But when they were filled, He said to His disciples, Gather the fragments that are left over, lest they be wasted. They therefore gathered them up; and they filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. When the people, therefore, had seen the sign which Jesus had worked, they said, This is indeed the Prophet Who is to come into the world. So when Jesus perceived that they would come to take Him by force and make Him king He fled again to the mountain, Himself alone.
John is presenting Jesus as the Prophet, the new Moses (something which he does all throughout his Gospel, comparing Moses and Jesus straightaway in the Prologue). The Exodus story is constantly alluded to in this passage:
- the crossing of the Red Sea – Jesus goes to the other side of the sea and is followed by a great crowd;
- ascent of Mt. Sinai – Jesus goes up the mountain;
- Manna and quail in the desert – Jesus feeds the multitude with bread and fish (bread and flesh);
It is also worth noting the context of this pericope. Just before Jesus had been speaking of Moses, how the Jews would believe in Him if they believed in Moses as he had spoken of Him; afterwards comes the Bread of Life discourse, which was begun with the Jews referring to how Moses had given them Manna in the desert. They eventually began to murmur against Jesus after He gave His discourse – just as their fathers were wont to do with Moses.
Midway through Lent, the Liturgy offers us a reminder of Christ’s ultimate mission – as the New Moses, to bring Adam’s children out of bondage from the land of sin and corruption to the Promised Land, the Heavenly Jerusalem, where “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more”. May we keep the thought of our life as a pilgrimage through this vale of tears vividly in our minds as we head deeper into the Lenten season.