We are mid-way through Lent – Laetare Sunday – and the word that comes to us week after week is that of encounter.
Over the last three weeks, we have witnessed God trying over and over to encounter His people: making a covenant with Noah, making a covenant with Abraham, and Jesus himself confronting those in the temple who were making His Father’s house a marketplace.
In his book The Joy of Discipleship, Pope Francis tells us how God remains faithful and patient, time after time, constantly continuing His efforts to reach us, to encounter us, sending messengers and prophets – efforts that are met with violations of the Covenant – and now His people are in exile.
Still God seeks to encounter His people. As we hear in the Chronicles, it is Cyrus the ruler of the Persians who becomes God’s instrument, and who allows the Israelites to return to their home.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that God is “rich in mercy. … God’s great love is manifested in His bringing us to life when we were dead in our transgressions and unfaithfulness.” Even as the people continue to violate their Covenant relationships with God, God continues to break into their lives and encounter them.
The Gospel this week has that wonderful statement from John 3:16, seen on so many TV screens and at sports events: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that everyone who believes in Him, may have eternal life.” We need to go deeper into this Gospel, to go from darkness into light that we may open ourselves to God’s encounter.
John goes on to set forth Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Notice that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night; out of darkness he has come with his fears and his questions, and Jesus responds, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Nicodemus is having a hard time coming out of the darkness of his unbelief into the light, a light that Jesus tells him comes from God’s love and will bring us to eternal life.
If the Scriptures of this Lent have taught us anything, it is that we don’t have to stay in the darkness. We can, as the Gospel states, “live the truth and come to the light.”
So our journey this Lent must be that of continuing to walk with Jesus. We must remain open to God continually reaching out to encounter us. Pope Francis reminds us that every encounter asks from us a response. What is our response so far in this Lenten season?
As we approach Holy Week and enter more deeply into the Paschal Mystery, as we walk with Jesus through the Passover, through the Triduum, we need to take the time to reflect and spend time with what our personal Passover is all about. We all have a personal Passover.